Salt Lake City — A judge ruled Monday that more specific, "tailored" orders that determine which documents to make public should be implemented in a personal injury lawsuit against Warren Jeffs, the Fundamentalist LDS Church and the United Effort Plan Trust.
"The Society of Professional Journalists has raised concerns, (and we) need to amend the existing protective orders and properly tailor them after looking at legitimate privacy interests," 3rd District Court Judge Keith Kelly told attorneys Monday.
In 2007, Elissa Wall filed a multimillion-dollar personal injury lawsuit — under the pseudonym "M.J." — against the FLDS Church and its leader, Jeffs, as well as the UEP Trust that controls homes, businesses and property in the FLDS strongholds of Hildale, Utah; Colorado City, Arizona; and Bountiful, British Columbia. Wall was married at age 14 to her 19-year-old cousin in a ceremony that was presided over by Jeffs.
Attorney David Reymann, who represented the Society of Professional Journalists and KSL at the hearing, objected to protective orders that had been entered in the case without any notification to the public. He said the practice is fairly common in civil lawsuits.
"In general, orders sealing documents in civil cases are frequently entered upon stipulation of the parties, and the court doesn't take the time to weigh the public's interest in having the case be open to the public," Reymann said. "It usually doesn't arise unless it's a high-profile case and generates public interest like this one does."
But this case involves orders that Reymann said were too broad and kept private all medical records, even when the woman's medical condition and injuries are the "centerpiece of the case." There have also been prohibitions entered about the use of cameras in the courtroom in the case even though it is presumed that they are allowed into hearings under a court rule passed last year.
The judge said he banned cameras because he was worried evidence that may be presented at trial would be disseminated in the news and prejudice a jury.
"This is a public proceeding," Kelly said. "There is a presumption of access. As soon as this case goes to trial, there will be video."
But Reymann said there will be interest in this case before it goes to trial and that there is a right to access to all hearings, not just trials.
"That right of access attaches to all phases of this case because most of them don't go to trial," he said.
Wall's attorney, Lance Milne, argued that his client was a minor at the time of the alleged injury and that the case is "highly sensitive" and deals with issues of rape and security. The judge, too, classified the plaintiff in the case a child rape victim.
Reymann said that the plaintiff's status as a victim in a criminal case does not justify the broad closure of documents that are in place, especially because it's a civil lawsuit and not a criminal case.
"It's a very different situation from when you are a crime victim, particularly if you're a minor crime victim, and she was that in a different case, but she chose to bring this lawsuit," Reymann said. "She's put at issue her treatment at the hands of Warren Jeffs or the people that are associated with him … and she's asking a public process to adjudicate those injuries, and she's not allowed to do that in secret."
The judge said he will notify the media of any other prospective closures or orders before they are implemented in the future and directed attorneys on both sides of the case to help him narrow the existing orders to protect only what is legitimately private.