Hearing goes on today on sect girl's attorney

Go San Angelo, Texas/September 4, 2008

The faces were more telling than the words.

Groups of haggard attorneys stumbling down the steps of the Tom Green County Courthouse testified Wednesday just as accurately as any witness to what had been another long day of events in the continuing saga surrounding the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

"I expect it to go long tomorrow," said Natalie Malonis, the Dallas-area attorney whose relationship with her client, a 17-year-old daughter of imprisoned FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, has become one of the centerpieces of the massive court case.

Attorneys and observers spent more time waiting outside 51st District Judge Barbara Walther's courtroom than listening inside it.

Of seven hours at the courthouse, no more than two hours was public testimony in a hearing to determine whether Walther should remove Malonis as the girl's court-appointed attorney.

About 8:30 p.m., Walther continued the case until 9 a.m. today, ensuring a second day of testimony in a case filled with such multiday hearings.

In what little public testimony there was, attorneys grew testy as questions from both sides were interrupted by numerous objections.

"I know it's late," Walther interjected at one point, attempting to ease tensions. "I'm sorry I work late. I know you're getting tired. If you have a question, please ask it."

The hearing covered a raft of motions filed in the girl's case - the centerpiece being Malonis' own motion to substitute attorneys, which she said she filed at her client's request, but that she does not believe is in the girl's best interests.

As a result, she began calling witnesses designed to persuade Walther to reject her own motion while San Antonio attorneys Alan Futrell and Ken Isenberg argued in favor of Malonis' motion.

The two were retained by the girl's mother, Annette Jeffs, to represent the girl in an ongoing criminal case.

Malonis was one of hundreds of attorneys from across the state appointed to represent some of the 440 children removed by the state's Child Protective Services agency from the YFZ Ranch in Schleicher County in early April during an investigation of alleged physical and sexual abuse.

The girl has written letters to Walther and e-mails to Malonis, and conducted interviews with media outlets denying that she is an abuse victim and seeking new representation.

Malonis has said the girl was intimidated or coerced by sect leaders into taking those actions.

Annette Jeffs' own attorney, San Angelo lawyer Tim Edwards, also argued for replacing Malonis, arguing that regardless of the reasons, the relationship is too damaged to continue.

"I believe it's irretrievably broken," Edwards said, adding that Walther could easily appoint one of the "scads" of attorneys who already are serving as representatives for children in the case.

Futrell, Isenberg and Edwards declined to comment after the hearing.

Malonis presented witnesses who said they had seen little change in the relationship between the attorney and her client during the key month of June.

The pivotal June 19 letter from the girl to Walther seeking Malonis' removal was co-written by "several adults," said Angie Voss, investigative supervisor for CPS, who said she spoke to Annette Jeffs the day after the letter was sent.

After the hearing, Malonis said giving up the case is not an option - even though the court could appoint an equally "conscientious" attorney to represent the girl, in Edwards' words.

"I have a duty," she said. "It's not about whether it is worth it to me. There are a lot of issues that are very complicated, some of which can't be disclosed or discussed."

Those issues were undoubtedly part of a closed hearing held for well more than an hour that included testimony from Court-Appointed Special Advocates. CASA in July issued a report recommending Malonis remain as the girl's attorney, citing evidence that the girl had been married at age 15 to an adult son of YFZ Ranch leader Merril Jessop. The CASA report is sealed, leading to the closed hearing, but details of the report were obtained and released by the Standard-Times.

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