SALT LAKE CITY — A judge is deciding whether a former child bride’s multi-million dollar lawsuit against polygamist leader Warren Jeffs will be dismissed or proceed to trial.
FOX 13 reported in March that Elissa Wall had resurrected her lawsuit against Jeffs, the Fundamentalist LDS Church and its real-estate holdings arm, the United Effort Plan (UEP) Trust. At a hearing Wednesday afternoon, Wall’s lawyers fought a motion by lawyers for the UEP Trust to dismiss the case.
Wall is suing over her forced marriage at age 14 to her cousin in a ceremony presided over by Jeffs. She is reportedly seeking as much as $40 million in damages.
In arguments on Wednesday afternoon, UEP attorney Bill Walker said the lawsuit should be dismissed because Elissa Wall had struck a deal with her ex-husband, Allen Steed, when he pleaded guilty to charges related to the marriage. She purportedly agreed to go easy on him, if he wouldn’t cooperate with people she was suing.
“Elissa Wall and Allen Steed are in a conspiracy,” Walker told the judge. “To try and get money from the trust.”
Judge Keith Kelly appeared skeptical, pressing them on the parts of the deal and whether it was what the UEP was portraying.
Walker also alleged that the UEP Trust was not provided with medical records and other information in a timely manner. He argued the lawsuit should be dismissed. The hearing got testy at times between 3rd District Court Judge Keith Kelly and the lawyers involved.
Wall’s attorney, Michael Worel, denied that the agreement between his client and Allen Steed prohibited him from testifying or defending himself in the litigation.
“I’ve been falsely accused of supporting perjury, witness tampering, extortion,” Worel said.
He insisted there was no secrecy about the agreement Wall and Steed struck.
“When you flesh this out, there’s nothing there at all,” Worel said.
Worel urged the judge to keep the case on track for trial. Walker asked the judge to dismiss it, or delay the trial for more time to conduct depositions and gather evidence.
Judge Kelly ultimately took the case under advisement, saying he will try to make a ruling next week.
Lawyers for both Wall and the UEP Trust declined to comment outside of court. Bruce Wisan, the court-appointed UEP fiduciary, told FOX 13 he was hopeful a settlement could still be reached to avoid a trial. With $110 million in assets, Wall’s lawsuit could take as much as a third of it if she prevails, Wisan said.
The UEP Trust was taken over by the Utah courts in 2005, amid allegations that Jeffs and other FLDS leaders mismanaged it. It controls most of the homes and property in Hildale, Utah; and Colorado City, Ariz.
“Adversely, if there’s a large settlement that will affect the homes of multitudes,” Wisan said.
Warren Jeffs has not responded to anything in Wall’s lawsuit, but has been ordered to give a deposition. Jeffs is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for child sex assault, related to underage marriages.
The lawsuit, and allegations of a “secret deal” attracted the attention of the Utah Attorney General’s Office. A lawyer for Utah AG Sean Reyes sat in court on Wednesday, taking notes.
“The attorney general has standing to protect the charitable trust, the beneficiaries of the trust,” assistant Utah Attorney General David Wolf told FOX 13. “As such, when there’s allegations made of collusion and conspiracy, our office also has an obligation to look into those allegations.”