SALT LAKE CITY – Utah's leading news organizations, including The Associated Press, and professional groups asked a judge Wednesday to unseal court papers in the case of polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs, who faces charges of rape by accomplice.
Lawyers for the news media want 5th District Judge James L. Shumate in St. George to unseal a petition filed April 5 and an order the judge signed the same day. They also asked to be notified before any other court papers are sealed so that they may be given a chance to fight it.
"I am advised these documents may deal with substantive pretrial matters, such as the defendant's competency to stand trial," media lawyer David C. Reymann wrote to Shumate on Wednesday.
Jeffs, 51, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is accused of commanding a 14-year-old girl to submit herself to a 19-year-old cousin in an arranged marriage in 2001. Jeffs has pleaded not guilty to the two felony counts of rape by accomplice.
Shumate has indefinitely postponed a motion hearing and trial in the Jeffs' case without explanation. Washington County Deputy Attorney Brian Filter has attributed the delay to an unspecified legal proceeding that must be decided first.
Jeffs' attorney, Walter F. Bugden, refused for a second day to comment on the reason for the delay. He also refused to respond to the media's effort to unseal documents in the case. "I don't have a comment," he said Wednesday.
The court's docket gives no indication about the contents of the petition and order or the reason they were sealed.
Reymann, of the Salt Lake City law firm of Parr, Waddoups, Brown, Gee & Loveless, filed the request on behalf of The Associated Press, The Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret Morning News, The Spectrum of St. George, Salt Lake City television station KSL, the Utah chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists, and the Utah Media Coalition, representing all print and broadcast companies in Utah.
Shumate has declined to explain the delay or why the documents were sealed.
Bugden has said Jeffs is being prosecuted for his religion, which holds that polygamy will bring men and their wives glory in heaven.
Jeffs has led the FLDS church since 2004. An estimated 10,000 church members mostly make their homes in the twin border towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Ariz.