Houston Criminal Defense Attorney Discusses Latest Developments in FLDS case and the Beginnings of a Grand Jury Investigation
A West Texas grand jury sitting in Schleicher County heard testimony from a few of the dozens of witnesses subpoenaed to testify concerning allegations made by the Attorney General’s Office that members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints forces underage girls into “spiritual marriages.”
The grand jury probe stems from the April 2008 military-styled raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado during which the State’s Child Protective Services and law enforcement authorities, including the Texas Rangers, forcefully seized custody of the 467 children – two-thirds of whom were five years of age or younger – and placed them in state foster care. CPS officials immediately began issuing irresponsible public statements and leaking erroneous information to the media that dozens of the teenage girls had been impregnated through forced spiritual marriages, had been subjected to other forms sexual abuse, and that other children had been subjected to physical abuse.
During hearings conducted in mid-April before San Angelo County District Court Judge Barbara Walhter, CPS paraded into court with a number of witnesses carrying volumes of documents who could not substantiate a single incident of either sexual or physical abuse. That a state agency would conduct itself in such an incompetent manner was disturbing enough but that a state court judge would permit its court to be turned into a carnival venue for such a spectacle was nothing short of astonishing.
Two courts of review – the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court – agreed. They reversed Judge Walhter’s ruling that upheld CPS’ decision to place the children in state foster care. The two appellate courts in May ordered the FLDS children returned to their parents. The decisions were not only a rebuke of CPS’ handling of the case but they were also a reasonable, rational reinforcement of the natural parent-child relationship so honored in the State of Texas throughout its storied history.
But the forces of social engineering who favor state control of every facet of family and religious training were not about to graciously accept defeat. The Attorney General’s office and law enforcement authorities intensified their efforts to get children to turn against their parents by confirming their manufactured sexual abuse allegations. One court-appointed attorney, Natalie Malonis, who represents the 16-year-old daughter of imprisoned FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, went to the unprecedented extreme of applying for, and securing from Judge Walhter, a restraining order against FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop. The attorney charged that Jessop had been intimidating her client, Teresa Jeffs, against cooperating with the authorities trying to build a case against FLDS members.
Teresa Jeffs was incensed with Malonis who was clearly operating against the interests of her client. “I have asked her many times to please step aside,” Jeffs told Associated Press following the issuance of the restraining order. “I need more help. I want my attorney to listen to me.”
Malonis sought the restraining order after investigators from the Attorney General’s Office were unable to locate young Jeffs to serve her with a grand jury subpoena. Claiming publicly that she believes her client has been the victim of sexual abuse, Malonis has obviously joined ranks with those forces bent on destroying the FLDS. Writing in a June 24, 2008 blog posted on the FLDS website “The Truth Will Prevail,” Donald Richter pointed out that Malonis appeared on CNN’s Nancy Grace Show three times in May. Malonis was joined on two of the shows by Carolyn Jessop and Flora Jessop, both whom are ex-FLDS members who have waged a bitter crusade against the church. During her appearances on Nancy Grace, Malonis did not represent the interests of her client but rather defended the actions of CPS and Judge Walhter. The following exchange was taken from CNN’s transcript of the Nancy Grace Show which aired May 29, 2008:
GRACE: “Natalie, when you heard the ruling sending – about sending about 150 of the children back, what was your immediate reaction?”
MALONIS: “I was very surprised. I was very surprised to initially hear the ruling. Once I read the opinion, this is really a very middle-of-the-road opinion. And I’ll say this. I don’t think any of the children are going back to the compound right now, and maybe never.”
GRACE: “So you say right now. You say right now. This is a blow to the state. They are saying.”
MALONIS: “It is.”
GRACE: “… they can get these children back, that there could be additional hearings, there could be additional orders. But the reality is, they are saying Child Protective Services exceeded their authority, they acted too broadly, and they are sending the children back.”
MALONIS: “Well, actually that’s not what it says. This is.”
GRACE: “Explain to me.”
MALONIS: “OK. This order has to do with what the trial court did.
MALONIS: “And it’s not say that – it is not saying that CPS was not justified in their initial actions. It’s saying there was not enough evidence at the 14-day hearings to keep every one of these – children in custody. What I expect to happen now is, I think, CPS and the state is going to get – there’s a lot of evidence that was not present in April because it was not available. It was under seal, being reviewed by special masters. There’s a lot of evidence that’s available now that wasn’t back in April. And I expect them to – for CPS to be going through this evidence and to call out evidence relating to particular children and I think there are going to be additional hearings. I think a lot of these kids are going to remain in custody, you know, if there’s evidence.”
While Malonis has stated publicly that she is protecting the interests of Teresa Jeffs, the position taken by the attorney on Nancy Grace cast serious doubt on that contention. Teresa Jeffs has repeatedly told Malonis that she was not a victim at the FLDS compound and was never forced into a spiritual marriage, so why would Malonis appear on Nancy Grace with Carolyn and Flora Jessop towing the CPS anti-FLDS line? Malonis was appointed to represent the interests of Teresa Jeffs – not the interests of CPS or the interests of those with a political agenda to destroy the FLDS.
Both Malonis and Judge Walhter are now under police protection. The Washington County, Utah, sheriff’s office has circulated photos of FLDS members they suspect of being “enforcers” who might cause harm.
“There are many individuals who are willing to give up their life for the cause and you can never underestimate what a religious fanatic is capable of,” said an e-mail obtained by the Salt Lake City Tribune from the Washington County sheriff’s office.
The “religious fanatic” reference in the e-mail reflects the professional bias many in law enforcement have against the FLDS. It reflects a law enforcement paranoia that the FLDS is engaged in some kind of religious jihad against those who oppose the church. A Salt Lake City attorney named Rod Parker, who represents the FLDS, dismissed this law enforcement concern, saying:
“When have they ever seen an act of intimidation or violence against law enforcement from the FLDS community at all, ever? Parker told the Tribune. “Before they start spreading those kinds of rumors, they ought to be able to ID an example of them ever doing that in the past.”
Texas FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop was equally succinct: “Washington County officials do not let the facts get in the way of a good story. These are the types of paranoid allegations that can hurt a lot of innocent people if they are allowed to go unchecked.”
What is tragic about the so-called “threats” and allegations of “fanaticism” is that there have been scores of physical and legal threats leveled against the FLDS, and those out to destroy the church have engaged in public conduct that, at a minimum, can only be described as “fanatical.” It must be remembered that this entire case began with anonymous telephone calls by a lying religious fanatic to a “crisis center” who has a fanatical view of the FLDS.
It is poignantly ironical that the very day the Texas Attorney General’s Office was trying to compel children to testify against their parents on “trumped-up” sexual abuse allegations the FBI announced scores of arrest of pimps who forced children into prostitution. Dubbed “Operation Cross Country,” federal law enforcement officials said they rescued 21 children who had been forced into prostitution. These same authorities said they arrested 345 people – including 290 adult prostitutes (most of who had turned to prostitution as children) – in 16 cities, including Houston, who, allegedly, were part of “organized networks of pimps” that preyed on what authorities called social “thrown-aways.” FBI Director Robert Mueller said that since 2003, 308 pimps and prostitutes have been convicted in both state and federal courts of forcing children into prostitution. The nation’s top law enforcement said some 433 child victims were rescued during that period.
The contrast between “Operation Cross Country” and the FLDS “operation” is striking. It is likely that during the Cross Country investigations that law enforcement authorities had real reason to believe underage children were being sexually and physically abused while the investigation was underway. Investigators most likely compiled video surveillance and collected reliable information that “children” in a specific location – whether in a massage parlor or on a street corner – were being prostituted. Yet the agents waited, allowing the physical and sexual abuse to continue while they further investigated and built their cases.
But in the FLDS case, law enforcement authorities – operating with nothing more than second-hand hearsay based on anonymous telephone calls from a mentally deranged person – armed up with enough military-styled firepower to take on a violent drug cartel, raided a “religious compound” where there was absolutely no evidence of physical or sexual abuse taking place.
To this day, there has not been an iota of evidence presented in a courtroom that a single child was the victim of either physical or sexual abuse at the YFZ Ranch. Whatever evidence or testimony the grand jury heard on June 24, 2008 was not enough to warrant any immediate indictments. The grand jury reportedly will resume hearing testimony and taking evidence in the case on July 22, 2008.
In the meantime, the interests of justice would be served if attorneys like Natalie Malonis would stop making statements contrary to their client’s instructions and interests on shows like Nancy Grace and devote their legal skills and resources to returning the lives of the innocent FLDS parents and children to normal. The interests of justice are never served by those operating with a political or social agenda. Justice has only one interest: justice. While justice is not a concept susceptible to precise definition, every individual knows what it is when he or she sees it. There has been too much social and political fanaticism associated with this case – and it’s time for Judge Walhter to reign it in and conduct whatever “hearings” before her in a legal and judicious manner.