26 Sep 2008

Conflicts abound in FLDS custody cases

Deseret News - September 26, 2008

by Ben Winslow

SAN ANGELO, Texas — There were so many perceived conflicts of interest in a hearing here Thursday, Child Protective Services lawyers created a flow chart to try to explain it all.

Annette Jeffs, the mother of 17-year-old Teresa Jeffs, wanted to jettison her attorney for Laura Shockley. So did Barbara Jessop, the mother of a 14-year-old girl allegedly married at age 12 to Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs. Jessop is also a stepmother of Raymond Merril Jessop, indicted in a criminal case and also believed to have married Teresa Jeffs at 15.

Shockley, who represented some of the "disputed minors" that turned out to be adults, also represented some children early on in the FLDS custody battle — including a 5-year-old boy whose mother is one of Annette Jeffs' sister-wives, and CPS alleged, a sister-wife to Barbara Jessop's 14-year-old daughter.

"Every individual, as Americans, are free to choose who they want to represent them," countered Kirby Roberts, a lawyer hired to represent Shockley, a Dallas-area attorney.

Appearing in court together, Annette Jeffs and Barbara Jessop both said they were willing to waive any conflicts to have Shockley represent them. But under questioning, both women refused to answer questions that underscored the perceived problem.

"As a mother of a child, do you see a problem with an attorney representing you, the mother of an alleged victim, and a parent of an alleged perpetrator?" CPS attorney Jeff Schmidt asked Annette Jeffs.

"I'm going to stand on the Fifth," she replied.

She invoked her right against self-incrimination to nearly every question about her daughter's alleged marriage at age 15 to Raymond Jessop. In civil court those non-answers can be used against her.

After a recess, Shockley withdrew from representing Jeffs. Her current attorney, Tim Edwards, wouldn't say why he was being fired.

"That's something I'm not at liberty to talk about," he told the Deseret News during a break in court proceedings.

As Schmidt tried to grill Jessop on the witness stand, she invoked her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent more than 24 times.

"She must be one heckuva attorney, because CPS is doing everything they can to get rid of her," Roberts said of Shockley.

But others, including an attorney for Jessop's daughter and the Court Appointed Specialty Advocates (an independent organization appointed to act in a child's best interest) agreed there was a conflict.

"The court grants the motion that Ms. Shockley is disqualified in this case," Texas 51st District Judge Barbara Walther said.

Jessop's 14-year-old daughter is the only one of hundreds of children taken in the April raid on the FLDS Church's YFZ Ranch to be returned to foster care. Walther had ruled that Jessop was unable to protect her child from abuse.

"I think she's doing the best she can," CPS caseworker Cathie Irons testified during a hearing on the girl Thursday. "It's been a hard adjustment."

On the witness stand again, Jessop struggled to keep her emotions in check as she answered questions about her daughter.

"Is it fair to say she wants to go home?" the girl's court-appointed attorney, Angie Trout, asked.

"I know she does very, very much," she said.

Jessop denied many of CPS' claims that she has been uncooperative and refused to take steps to prove she can care for her child. She denied offering to "trade" a child to go into foster care in her daughter's stead.

A CPS caseworker testified they put a halt to notes being passed to the girl, but allowed siblings to visit alongside her mother. When CPS had documentation of dozens of phone calls between the two, Jessop explained that it was her daughter who would call her.

"What's she supposed to do, hang up the phone on her crying daughter?" Jessop's lawyer, Gonzalo Rios, said.

As of Monday, Barbara Jessop had started paying child support, undergone a psychological evaluation and had a social study conducted on her home. However, she has refused to sign a family service plan that outlines the steps she must take to be reunited with her daughter.

Jessop told the judge she was still negotiating that with CPS. Her husband, YFZ Ranch leader Merril Jessop, cannot be found.

CPS said it was working toward reuniting the girl with her mother by next year. Rios feared that anything his client did would not be good enough for CPS.

"She's going to do everything she has to do," he said as he walked out of court alongside Barbara Jessop.

In a sign the legal squabbles aren't over, the girl's court-appointed attorney said her 14-year-old client wants to fire her.

"My client wants me off the case," Trout said. "She wants another attorney appointed for her."

This article was found at:

http://deseretnews.com/article/1,5143,700261795,00.html

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