Judicial ultimatum: Polygamous leader Jeffs ordered to help reunite exiled father, family

Court issues ultimatum in FLDS split-family case

The Salt Lake Tribune/July 20, 2007
By Brooke Adams

St. George -- Polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs and his followers may pay a heavy price for continuing to interfere in the parental rights of a young father.

Fifth District Judge James L. Shumate gave Jeffs one week to pave the way for Wendell Musser, a former caretaker for the sect leader, to re-establish a permanent relationship with his toddler son, Levi.

If there is no response from Jeffs, other leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Vivian Barlow, the child's mother, Musser's attorneys will be allowed to interview Jeffs under oath on July 27.

They would also be able to begin assessing a $600-plus daily penalty against Jeffs' commissary account at the Purgatory Correctional Facility. That is the per-day cost of hiring a private detective to search for Levi and his mother.

The judge said attorneys Roger and Greg Hoole, who represent Musser, may seek judgments against anyone else who continues to interfere with their client's parental rights. They could then have personal property, such as cell phones and vehicles, seized and sold at a sheriff's auction, the judge said.

Shumate also said Musser could add others to his complaint, such as the FLDS church, and seek judgments against related holdings - such as the gated YFZ Ranch in Texas.

"Wendell respects whatever decision Vivian makes about her own life and religious beliefs," Roger Hoole told the judge. "But he needs contact with her regarding their son."

Musser, 22, last saw the pair on May 25 in Hildale, a meeting prompted by the lawsuit he filed seeking to be reunited with his son and wife. Vivian Barlow, 20, told Musser neither she nor their son would have anything to do with him, even refusing to let him hold the child.

Musser has not heard from them since.

The couple, who were spiritually married in 2004, were called on a caretaker mission by Jeffs in December 2005, according to Musser. They spent seven months looking after some of Jeffs' wives in various safe houses in Colorado.

At the time, Jeffs was a fugitive wanted on charges in Arizona and Utah. Jeffs is currently jailed in Hurricane, awaiting trial on two felony counts of being an accomplice to rape for allegedly conducting the 2001 marriage of an unwilling bride.

Musser was exiled from the faith in June 2006 after he was arrested for driving while intoxicated in Colorado Springs. Jeffs ordered him to return to Utah and separated him from his wife and son, who was then about 11 months old.

Musser's later attempts to find his family were fruitless. He filed a missing person report and then the lawsuit to assert his right to be a part of his son's life.

"Mr. Jeffs is in a unique position of control," Roger Hoole told Shumate. "He is the one who can say here he is, be a father. He is the one who can hold that information back."

Roger Hoole added that the separation of fathers from their children has happened "hundreds of times" on orders from Jeffs and "it needs to stop."

Musser, who lives in Idaho, attended Thursday's hearing. He said afterward that he had brought some gifts for Levi, who will turn 2 on July 30.

Musser said there wasn't much to say about the situation.

"We're trying. I do love them," he said. "She needs to realize what she is doing to keep Levi away is hurting [me] and Levi. I won't give up on them. I'm still waiting."

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