The head of a polygamous sect on the Utah-Arizona border has forfeited the right to defend himself against allegations that he orchestrated the firing and blacklisting of a former member, setting the stage for a possible damage award against him.
The clerk of U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City on Friday entered a certificate of default against Warren Jeffs, president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), in a lawsuit filed by ex-member Shem Fischer.
Now that he has the certificate, Fischer can either request a hearing or submit an affidavit to argue the amount of monetary damages he should be paid. Jeffs has the legal right to dispute the amount but cannot defend himself against the underlying allegations in the suit.
A certificate of default was issued late last year against the church's governing bodies: the Corporation of the President of the FLDS Church and the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the FLDS Church.
In his suit, filed in 2002, Fischer contends he was illegally fired from his job as a salesman for Forestwood Co., a wooden cabinet-making business, because he no longer adhered to the FLDS faith.
The legal action originally named only the company, but Fischer amended it last summer to add Jeffs and the FLDS Church as defendants. He is asking for unspecified damages.
The former salesman alleges he was forced out of his job because he protested the firing of a fellow employee based on the co-worker's lack of belief in FLDS doctrine and because he himself rejected certain tenets.
The amended lawsuit added allegations that the firings by the Hildale company were prompted by orders from Jeffs and other FLDS leaders that followers stop associating with nonfollowers.
Fischer says the church officials then put him on a blacklist to stop him from getting a new job.
The majority of residents in Hildale and adjoining Colorado City, Ariz., belong to the FLDS Church, which embraces the practice of polygamy.
When Fischer's attorneys were unable to locate Jeffs to serve him with the suit, they published notices earlier this year in three newspapers in areas where the FLDS Church owns or controls property - The Spectrum in St. George, The Eldorado Success in Texas and the Cortez Journal in Colorado.
The certificate of default was issued because he failed to respond within 20 days of the publications.
Forestwood still is contesting the suit.
Jeffs and the FLDS Church also are defendants in two lawsuits in Utah's 3rd District Court.
One was filed in July 2004 by Brent Jeffs accusing three of his uncles, including Warren Jeffs, of sexually assaulting him when he was a child.
A month later, a group of young men who call themselves the Lost Boys sued over what they allege was their banishment from the community.
Brent Jeffs also has attempted to serve Warren Jeffs with the suit through publication. The plaintiffs in both state suits have requested default judgments.