Judge says polygamous sect leader Jeffs may remain silent in parental rights case

The Salt Lake Tribune/August 15, 2007

A 5th District judge refused to find Warren S. Jeffs in contempt of court Tuesday, saying the polygamous sect leader had a right to not answer questions under oath about an ex-follower's toddler son.

Jeffs appropriately invoked his constitutional right to stay silent, particularly given the criminal charges pending against him in three different jurisdictions, Judge James L. Shumate said.

The judge also refused to give attorneys for Wendell Musser permission to continue questioning Jeffs about the matter.

The parental rights dispute between Musser and Vivian Barlow, mother of Musser's 2-year-old son Levi, is being properly addressed in a separate legal action, he noted.

"We need to find a way for these two parents to raise this child even though they are no longer in a marital relationship," Shumate said.

Reed Braithwaite, Barlow's attorney, said he was working to set up a supervised visit between Musser and the toddler on Wednesday.

While it is unclear what role, if any, Jeffs has in the dispute, the judge said he would order him to not interfere with Musser's parental rights.

Jeffs, who has been incarcerated at the Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane for almost a year, may not have "up-to-date" information about Barlow, the judge said.

"If Vivian Barlow happens to believe that Mr. Jeffs is right in everything he says, no order of the court is going to change her mind," he added.

Musser sued Jeffs in April to learn the whereabouts of his wife and son, whom he had not seen since June 2006. He also filed a separate paternity case to establish his rights as Levi's father; both he and Barlow are seeking sole custody of Levi, according to court documents.

Musser alleged he was cut off from them and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints after being arrested for driving while intoxicated in Colorado Springs, Colo.

At the time, Musser was a caretaker who looked after safehouses used by Jeffs' wives while the sect leader sought to avoid criminal charges in Utah and Arizona.

He received a default judgement in his case against Jeffs on July 20. Roger and Greg Hoole, who represent Musser, sought the contempt charge after visiting Jeffs in jail on July 27.

Jeffs answered one question - where he was born - and then invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent when questions turned to Musser and his family.

Walter F. Bugden, who is representing Jeffs in a criminal case set to begin in September, said his client had every right to do so, particularly given prosecutors' interest in the Musser case.

He said any need to question Jeffs was moot when Barlow hired an attorney to represent her in the paternity case - something Musser's attorneys were told during the jailhouse interview with Jeffs.

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