SALT LAKE CITY — A convicted polygamist leader’s teenage daughter, who was among the children removed from her sect’s Texas compound during an abuse investigation, is fighting her attorney’s attempt to shield her from a church official.
Teresa Jeffs, 16, is one of hundreds of children from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints with an attorney appointed by a state judge as part of a child welfare investigation into allegations of abuse. Her father is Warren Jeffs, the church’s imprisoned president and prophet.
More than 400 children were rounded up as part of the Texas investigation and later released. Teresa Jeffs denies allegations by her attorney that she was forced into a spiritual marriage at age 15 with an older man and that she has a baby. She told The Associated Press on Sunday that she wants a new lawyer.
But the court-appointed attorney, Natalie Malonis, believes Jeffs is being swayed by a church official.
On Friday, Malonis successfully sought a restraining order against church spokesman Willie Jessop, who she said was intimidating and improperly influencing the girl.
“I believe that (the girl) was avoiding service because of coercion and improper influence from Willie Jessop,” Malonis wrote the judge.
Malonis sought the protection order after the girl asked State District Judge Barbara Walther to release her from the case and appoint another attorney.
Jessop, a Utah-based member of the church, denies trying to influence Jeffs and criticized restrictions that prohibit her from visiting the sect’s Yearning For Zion ranch near Eldorado, Texas.
Teresa Jeffs says she doesn’t need and didn’t approve of the restraining order and doesn’t want Malonis as her lawyer anymore.
“I have asked her many times to please step aside,” Teresa Jeffs told the AP by telephone on Sunday from Texas. “I need more help. I want my attorney to listen to me.”
In one letter she released to the AP, Teresa Jeffs wrote: “Natalie, quit all your lying about everything.” She asked Malonis to “let me get a different lawyer.”
Malonis declined Sunday to respond to her client’s complaints.
“I’m trying to help her,” Malonis said. “It’s really not in any child’s interest to waive their attorney-client privilege. I’m not going to fight with her in the media.”
Jeffs said she plans to appear Wednesday before a grand jury opening a criminal investigation into the polygamist group. The state attorney general’s office refuses to confirm anything about the proceeding, saying it’s secret under Texas law.
In 2003, the sect began moving some of its estimated 6,000 members to the YFZ ranch. Acting on an allegation of child abuse, Texas authorities raided the ranch April 3 and seized more than 450 children. A court returned the children this month.