Lawyers clash over revealing identity of the woman accusing Warren Jeffs and the FLDS Church of abuse

Posted at 5:39 PM, May 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-21 19:39:30-04

ST. GEORGE, Utah -- Attorneys clashed in court over whether to publicly reveal the identity of a woman who has filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against polygamist leader Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist LDS Church, accusing them of "ritualistic sex abuse."

In a hearing on Tuesday, lawyers for ex-FLDS leader Wendell Nielsen and the court-controlled United Effort Plan Trust sought to have the alleged child rape victim's name made public. They argued that it has been difficult to defend against her accusations when they have been bound by a non-disclosure agreement to even utter her name.

But attorneys for "R.H.," as she's known in court documents, told the judge that publicly disclosing her name presented significant security concerns.

"We’re not trying to prevent them from defending their case. What we’re trying to do is protect our client’s safety," said Alan Mortensen, an attorney for "R.H."

Fifth District Court Judge G. Michael Westfall appeared sympathetic, but uneasy with the whole situation.

"What I’m looking for is a solution that addresses your concerns but addresses their concerns as well," the judge said. "I don’t have heartburn about designating her as 'R.H.' But in terms of them being prohibited from disclosing her name to anyone else, I do have concerns about that. It handcuffs them as far as presenting a defense."

R.H. is suing Jeffs, the FLDS Church and its real-estate holdings arm, the United Effort Plan Trust, as well as current and former leaders, alleging "ritualistic sex abuse." She claims that as a child, she was repeatedly taken from her home with a bag over her head and driven to an undisclosed location where she was sexually abused.

Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison, has refused to respond to the lawsuit. In court on Tuesday, Nielsen's attorney argued he had a right to know who she was in order to defend himself.

"The plaintiff has chosen to publicly accuse him of the most horrific things, but she’s doing it with the cloak of anonymity," said Kimball Forbes.

Zachary Shields, the lawyer for the United Effort Plan Trust, said a protective order entered into the case made it so they could not seek out potential witnesses in Hildale to dispute the woman's claims. He also argued that requiring those witnesses to sign non-disclosure agreements (like the attorneys have) creates a burden.

Shields also argued that court proceedings are typically public.

"There is a public interest to open courts. There are television cameras outside and reporters in here," he said, motioning to a FOX 13 reporter in the courtroom.

Judge Westfall said he was trying to find a balance.

"The difficulty is any balance I strike runs the risk the cat gets out of the bag and everybody’s going to know who we’re talking about," he said.

The judge ultimately prohibited any court filings from disclosing any identifying information about R.H., but also allowed lawyers to use her name when questioning any potential witnesses.

"I think it’s good. It wasn’t everything we wanted, but I think we’ll be able to work with it," Shields told FOX 13 outside court.

Mortensen said he still had concerns with his client's safety.

"People who are still loyal to Warren Jeffs will go and try to embarrass, harass, intimidate and threaten. They’ve shown that in the past," he said.

The lawsuit will now move toward trial. Mortensen said he planned to go to Texas to take Jeffs' deposition in the case. In previous depositions obtained by FOX 13, Jeffs spent hours refusing to answer any question posed to him.

"I hope 'Brother Warren' will talk. That would be nice," he said. "Not sounding hopeful. But if he did, that would be a great day."