Former teen bride's lawsuit against Jeffs, trust widened

Amended complaint alleges negligence by the FLDS church and its property trust

The Salt Lake Tribune/December 5, 2007

A former teen bride wants to expand her lawsuit against polygamous leader Warren S. Jeffs and his sect's communal property trust for her unlawful marriage and subsequent rape.

In an amended complaint filed Monday in 3rd District Court, Elissa Wall alleges that Jeffs, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, trustees and participants in its United Effort Plan Trust all knew about such illegal marriages but did nothing to stop them.

As part of a "calculated plan," Wall said Allen Steed, her former husband, was able to sexually abuse her.

Wall, who is seeking unspecified damages, initially filed the lawsuit under the pseudonym "M.J." in Iron County. It was transferred to Salt Lake City last month.

Fiduciary Bruce R. Wisan, who was appointed in 2005 to oversee the UEP trust, wants Wall's lawsuit thrown out. He argues the trust cannot be held liable for criminal acts of a trustee; also, Rulon T. Jeffs, not his son Warren, presided over the sect and the trust at the time of Wall's marriage.

Roger and Greg Hoole, Wall's attorneys, counter that defense in the new complaint, which now uses a negligence claim to expose the trust to greater liability.

"We're saying what Warren Jeffs did was simply what all those who preceded him had done," Greg Hoole said, and there is "direct liability on the trust for putting them in a home as a married couple."

An early effort to settle the lawsuit failed. In her settlement offer, Wall sought property and $1 million to set up a fund for those leaving the sect.

Wisan said if she succeeds, Wall will decimate the trust and pave the way for other teen brides to make similar claims.

"We don't feel the trust has any liability whatsoever and we think it is a real stretch for them to include the trust because somebody was living in [one of its houses]," Wisan said.

"It's hurting the trust and it's hurting the people."

The trust "won't take the brunt of her allegations," he said. "The trust will turn around and sue her mother, her sisters, possibly her father and others who had a hand in and promoted her marriage."

At age 13, Wall moved from Salt Lake City to Hildale with her mother and siblings after her father was exiled from the sect for physically abusive behavior. Her mother was subsequently assigned as a wife to Fred Jessop, an FLDS counselor and bishop who died five years ago.

Back in 2001, Jessop arranged for Wall, then 14, to marry her then 19-year-old cousin Allen Steed. Wall opposed the union but testified in court she was pressured into it by Jeffs, Jessop, her mother and other family members.

Jeffs conducted the marriage. In September he was convicted of rape as an accomplice for that act and later counseling Wall to stay with Steed.

Wall's new filing states Jeffs performed the marriage as directed by his father, Rulon T. Jeffs, who died in 2002. She claims all three men - the two Jeffs and Jessop - are liable for the unwanted sexual intimacy that followed.

Wall argues that the church and trust are inseparable and the trust existed only to advance the church's goals, which have long supported underage and arranged marriages. Sect members knew such marriages occurred and backed them by upholding a revision of the trust in 1998 during a general church meeting, her claim states.

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