Ruling could open floodgates in FLDS custody battles

Posted at 5:19 PM, Mar 28, 2014
and last updated 2014-03-28 20:29:58-04

ST. GEORGE -- A judge's ruling granting permanent custody to a man cast out of the Fundamentalist LDS Church could set a precedent for other exiled men to pursue custody of their children.

A 5th District Court judge late Thursday awarded Lorin Holm permanent custody of the dozen children he has with two of his ex-wives, Lynda Peine and Patricia Peine.

"There's thousands of families and thousands of children that this will affect," Holm said in a recent interview with FOX 13.

Holm sued for custody of his children, arguing they were in danger of being abused by FLDS leaders -- including Warren Jeffs. As part of his custody trial, he called Jeffs as a witness.

Jeffs gave a videotaped deposition from the Texas prison where he is serving a life sentence for child sex assault related to underage marriages. The tape, played briefly in court, was the first time Jeffs has been publicly seen since he was incarcerated. He appeared behind a mesh screen, thin and frail looking.

To almost every question, Jeffs would say: "I refuse to answer based upon my rights under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution."

In granting custody of the children, Judge James Shumate cited "the influence of Warren Jeffs on the mothers," Holm's attorney, Roger Hoole, said.

Rod Parker, the attorney for Lynda Peine, told FOX 13 on Friday he was considering his options about taking the case to the Utah Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, other exiled FLDS men view Holm's victory as a chance for them to return to see their children. Hoole said he has one other case pending in 5th District Court, with other ex-FLDS men contacting him.

For years, many men have been ousted from the church -- told by Jeffs to "repent from afar." They have been separated from their wives and forbidden from seeing their children. In court, Holm testified he was told to leave under orders from Jeffs and his brother, FLDS bishop Lyle Jeffs.

"There are hundreds of men that have lost their families and desperately need them back," Hoole said. "To the extent that Warren Jeffs prevents that, I think we can expect a lot more lawsuits."

Holm was granted full legal and physical custody of his children. He told the court he would continue to allow his ex-wives to have visitation. While he has placed the children in public school, he has them dress in a manner consistent with FLDS standards out of respect for their mothers.

He also told the judge he follows the general teachings of the FLDS faith, but objects to Jeffs' crimes and refuses to shun others who have been branded "apostates."

Holm told FOX 13 his hope is that other exiled men could reunite with their families as a result of his case.

"From my win, we will be able to help others," he said.