A host of high-powered attorneys from across Texas have been kept for Warren Jeffs' counsel, whether they want to be or not.
The head of the polygamy-sanctioning Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has attorneys from Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and McKinney helping him for his Monday trial, in which he is charged with two counts of sexual assault of a child.
Deric Walpole is the lead counsel for Jeffs. He is a lawyer out of McKinney, part of the firm Luce, Norhouse and Walpole. He was once voted "Trial Lawyer of the Year" by the Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, according to his law office. He has been listed as a Texas rising star for the past four years by "Super Lawyers" magazine.
He began representing Jeffs about three business days before the trial was scheduled to begin, submitting motions and paperwork at the last minute.
Jeff Kearney of the firm Kearney Wynn in Fort Worth was preparing to be lead counsel before Walpole. Reagan Wynn of the same firm was serving as co-counsel. Kearney has been listed in the Best Lawyers in America and in a who's who lawyer publication and has practiced law for 29 years, according to his law firm.
Kearney had been representing Jeffs for more than five months before Jeffs tried to fire him, and Kearney filed to be removed from the case on July 7. Judge Barbara Walther, of the 51st District, who is presiding over the Jeffs trial, denied that motion, although Kearney has been instructed by Jeffs not to represent him.
Walpole once asked for more time to prepare for trial and said he could be ready in 90 days with Kearney's help, but Jeffs told his new attorney not to get Kearney's help. Kearney said he could explain his falling out with Jeffs to Walther in private, but Jeffs said through Walpole that he didn't want Kearney saying anything about it.
Walther nevertheless has not allowed Kearney to be removed as counsel.
Robert and Gary Udashen, brothers who are attorneys with the Dallas firm Sorrels, Udashen and Anton, have won accolades in a wide variety of publications and have had a case be the subject of TV movies. They said they had been retained only to present a motion to suppress evidence.
Evidence for the Jeffs trial and the criminal trials of other FLDS members came from an April 2008 raid on the FLDS Yearning for Zion Ranch, which began with what is widely believed to have been a hoax phone call from a woman claiming abuse at the ranch. The state has argued it had to act on the information at the time.
Other FLDS members have argued against the legitimacy of the search warrants and have asked to have the evidence suppressed, and that aspect of one of the previous cases of an FLDS member has gone to oral arguments before the Texas Third Court of Appeals, which has yet to rule on the case. Robert Udashen presented those oral arguments for the FLDS member.
Emily Detoto, a Houston-based attorney who is also listed as a rising star by "Super Lawyers," said she was retained only to try to have Walther removed as judge from the case. She got a hearing before a visiting judge, but her motion was denied.
She too has tried to bow out for the remainder of the trial, but Walther has ordered that she remain as co-counsel along with other attorneys.
Carla Perron, another Houston attorney, had been assisting Detoto and Walther also named her as co-counsel.
Eric Nichols is the lead attorney for the state. He works in private practice with the Beck, Redden and Secrest law firm now that he has left the Texas attorney general's office, through which he prosecuted the other seven FLDS members who have undergone trials for criminal offenses. He has been retained to continue representing the state in criminal FLDS member cases as a special prosecutor. He too has been listed as a "Super Lawyer" and under a roster in "The Best Lawyers in America" publication. Angela Goodwin, another attorney with the Texas Attorney General, has assisted him in the past and is assisting him now.
Walther will hear the case. She signed the warrants and orders for the evidence gathering and search on the YFZ Ranch, and she has heard every case stemming from the indictments, all seven prosecutions of FLDS members, as well as motions to suppress evidence.
By Matthew Waller
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