SALT LAKE CITY – Several men exiled from Warren Jeffs' polygamous sect are warning a judge that requiring a man to pay his ex-wives' attorney fees after winning a recent custody suit would have a chilling effect on others who have been kicked out and want their children back.
If a judge forces polygamist Lorin Holm to pay up to $76,000 in fees accrued by an attorney representing his two ex-wives, it would discourage other men in his situation from taking advantage of what was considered a significant ruling when issued by a southern Utah judge in late March, contend six men who filed a joint declaration with the court.
"Even when a father wakes up and stops following the corrupt FLDS leaders directives, he usually has little financial means and certainly not enough money to hire a lawyer to fight to protect his minor children — let alone pay the fees of attorneys hired to prevent him from gaining custody," wrote Charles Spencer Johnson.
Johnson was expelled in 2004 from the sect on the Utah-Arizona border known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He and Holm are among hundreds of men who have been ousted in recent years for alleged violations of the faith's rules. Once kicked out, they are banned from being with their families unless the wives leave, too.
Jeffs reportedly still leads the faith from a Texas prison where he is a serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides.
In a ruling in late March in St. George, a state judge awarded Holm sole custody over two women who remain faithful followers of Jeffs. He said Holm is a fit parent and more likely to allow his former wives to visit the children.
The women's attorney, Rod Parker, has asked the judge to force Holm to pay his fees under a state statute that allows a judge to charge the winning spouse in a custody suit if the other is unable to pay. It is designed to ensure that a rich spouse doesn't prevent the other from fighting for custody by burying them in legal fees.
Holm's attorney, Roger Hoole, is fighting back against the request and hoping the testimonials from the other exiled polygamist sway the judge. The state statute serves its purpose in most cases but it shouldn't be used in these cases of polygamist men who gave all their earnings to church leaders and were kicked to the curb with little or nothing, Hoole said.
"They have given everything they have to the church," Hoole said. "They are destitute when they come out."
The story was first reported by the Spectrum of St. George.
Parker argues that the statute is being used perfectly: Lynda and Patricia Peine have no jobs or savings and are unable to pay his fee. Holm, however, makes $150,000 a year, court documents show.
"He clearly isn't hurting for money," Parker said.
Hoole said the FLDS church has plenty of money to pay the women's legal fees. Parker calls that nonsense, saying no such agreement was in place and that this isn't a church case.
The judge is expected to rule on the matter in the coming weeks. Johnson wrote that the ruling that will "have a great impact on whether fathers can risk going to court to try to obtain custody of their own children."
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