Lawyer steps up for polygamist sect

Associated Press/October 25, 2009

Salt Lake City - The lawyer who regularly stands before TV cameras to defend a polygamous sect gets some praise for speaking up for what many consider an unpopular cause.

Rod Parker's critics, however, wonder how he sleeps at night.

"They really needed help," Parker said of the Texas members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. "It was the kind of call you cannot say 'no' to."

Authorities suspecting abuse at the sect's ranch in Eldorado took charge of more than 400 children in April. But they were returned to their parents after Texas courts said the state's child-welfare agency went too far.

As the case shifted almost daily, it was Parker who shed his tie - "I didn't want to look too lawyer-ish" - and spoke for the sect, a publicity-shy group that typically avoids contact with news media.

The 49-year-old Salt Lake City lawyer is a Roman Catholic who once belonged to the mainstream Mormon church, which is not affiliated with the sect. Parker worked at the U.S. Justice Department in the late 1980s before returning to Utah to specialize in family law as well as litigation and appeals. His clients have included some of the world's largest corporations.

Parker became familiar with the sect while helping another lawyer and then took on more work for the group, which believes in polygamy and arranged marriage.

Parker and his family have become acquainted with the sect, based in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

His wife, Lynn Parker, a nurse, has visited the midwifery complex and quilted with some of the women. The Parker children have participated in the group's harvest festival.

"I feel like I know so much more about what their church believes than what my church believes," Parker told the Deseret News in Salt Lake City.

Lynn Parker said her husband doesn't judge people.

"Rod is very much a constitutional lawyer. " He looks at their legal rights regardless of who they are," she said.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff praises Parker as someone who is looking out for the rank-and-file members of the sect. But in the next breath, Utah's chief law enforcer said the church has too much influence over Parker.

"He's almost a paid lobbyist or lackey for them, so he only repeats their line," Shurtleff said of Parker.

In response, Parker said: "I try to stick to the issues."

Salt Lake City attorney Brent Hatch, who has known Parker for 20 years, describes him as one of the "top legal minds" in the area who avoids self-promotion.

Parker's work for the sect had been infrequent in recent years, after sect leaders declined to fight civil lawsuits by former members. But then he responded to a call for assistance in Texas.

"I do think they deserve representation," Parker said of polygamists. "I think they get a raw deal a lot of the time."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.