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Judge tosses lawsuit against Warren Jeffs from ex-members of polygamous group

Warren Jeffs booking mug from 2006.
Warren Jeffs booking mug from 2006.

SALT LAKE CITY — A judge threw out a lawsuit Wednesday against polygamous leader Warren Jeffs that took aim at the group's longtime Utah law firm by saying attorneys created a veneer that helped perpetuate abuses like child labor and underage marriage.

U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart decided the claims from more than 20 former members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church are too old to be decided in court.

The plaintiffs said they couldn't have filed the lawsuit sooner because they were forbidden from contact with the outside world while in the secretive group based along the Utah-Arizona border, but the judge decided that the firm's involvement with the group was common knowledge.

The group's lawyer, Brett Godfrey, said he's looking over the order and weighing whether his clients will appeal.

The ex-FLDS members had accused the firm Snow, Christensen and Martineau of burnishing the group's credentials as a maligned religious group as cover for crimes like Jeffs' increasing use of underage marriage.

They claimed attorneys paid with money earned from child labor helped Jeffs devise legal strategies for tightening his control over the group after he took over leadership from his father in the late 1990s. Snow, Christensen and Martineau no longer represents Jeffs or the group.

Jeffs used that power to marry and sexually assault underage girls as well as arrange other underage marriages, the suit says.

The firm has denied the allegations it called "utterly nonsensical," saying lawyers like Rod Parker were simply doing their jobs and can't be held responsible for anything Jeffs did.

The well-known Salt Lake City law firm strongly denied being involved with anything illegal and condemned the wrongs the plaintiffs say they suffered under Jeffs, including being forced into marriage and separated from their families.

Jeffs is serving a life prison sentence in Texas after being convicted of sexually assaulting girls he considered wives. He no longer has a lawyer, and the group doesn't have a phone number to contact for comment.

The lawsuit comes as the federal government wages fights on multiple fronts to rein in the secretive Jeffs-led group with cases in both Utah and Arizona.

Jurors in Phoenix found that the twin polygamous towns violated the rights of nonbelievers by denying them basic services such as police protection, and a judge in Utah found that children in the group were forced to work long hours, sometimes with little food, at a pecan farm in 2012.

Several members of the group have also agreed to plea deals in a multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud scheme. Leader Lyle Jeffs, Warren Jeffs' brother, is on the run after escaping home confinement in that case.