5th District judge grants motion for Warren Jeffs’ deposition in sex abuse case

Composite image of Warren Jeffs, Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 15, 2010 | Associated Press file photo by Trent Nelson, pool, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A Washington County 5th District judge on Monday granted the approval of the plaintiff’s motion in an ongoing sexual abuse lawsuit to take the deposition of Warren Jeffs.

The court ruled to require the plaintiffs to wait to take Jeffs’ deposition after 60 days, and in that time, the Jeffs’ attorneys are required to depose the plaintiff. The efforts to schedule Jeffs’ deposition can begin immediately as long as the actual deposition takes place after the 60 days.

The plaintiff in the case, identified as “R.H.”, filed a lawsuit against Jeffs and others in 2017 relating to child sexual abuse she says she experienced beginning at the age of 8 while a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Jeffs remains the religions leader and prophet of the church, sharing spiritual revelations from his prison cell in Palestine, Texas.

On June 24, the plaintiff filed a motion for an order to take the deposition of Jeffs, which the United Effort Plan Trust has argued against. The court reconvened Tuesday morning under Judge Michael Westfall to discuss the matter.

Attorney Lance Milne, representing the plaintiff, asserted the importance of Jeffs’ deposition within the case, calling it “critical” and arguing that the deposition is standard discovery. The attorney representing Jeffs and the UEP, Michael Stanger, filed documents in opposition to the motion on July 8, citing a number of concerns.

Westfall recognized Stanger’s concerns, specifically mentioning the associated expenses and potential risk it poses to the defense but asked Jeffs’ counsel to provide clarification as to the validity of the objection.

“I’m well aware that you have some concerns, but I’m, frankly, a little bit perplexed by your objections,” he said. “I really didn’t see a good reason that I should deny the plaintiff an opportunity to take a defendant’s deposition.”

According to Stanger, his major concerns are ensuring that the deposition is taken in a way that “best conserves the limited resources of the parties.” If the defense were to take Jeffs’ deposition first and later depose the plaintiff, Stanger said he would have to appear before Westfall again to ask the court to allow for a second deposition of Jeffs in order to answer follow-up questions.

Deposing Jeffs might be relatively futile, previous court documents allege, as he might very well invoke the Fifth Amendment to each question the plaintiff’s attorneys ask. Furthermore, Stanger said, the implications of Jeffs pleading the Fifth are unknown and could have adverse affects against the UEP.

Westfall asserted that he could instruct a trial of fact if assumptions based on Jeffs’ invocation of the Fifth Amendment do pose an issue to the proceedings. Stanger contended it would be important for the court to make a preliminary ruling, which Westfall denied.

“My general understanding is that Mr. Jeffs was involved with your client (UEP), so it may very well be what he says could be adverse to your client and that evidence may come in, but we kind of have to wait and see if that develops,” he said.

Following Stanger’s statements, Westfall looked to Milne to address the timing concerns raised by the defense, later proposing a 60-day period for the defense to depose R.H. before attorneys can depose Jeffs, which Milne and Stanger agreed to.

Attorneys for the UEP have previously asserted that Jeffs may not be “mentally competent to provide admissible testimony” after suffering a mental breakdown while imprisoned. Another of R.H.’s attorneys Alan Mortensen asserted that the defense has been unable to provide the court with any evidence of Jeffs’ mental breakdown and argued that it should be Jeffs, not the UEP, that should object on the basis of mental incompetence.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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