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Polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs has turned to experienced Salt Lake City attorneys Walter Bugden and Tara Isaacson to defend him against two rape-related charges.
Appearing Monday before 5th District Judge James Shumate via a video link from jail, Jeffs answered affirmatively when Shumate asked if he had hired the attorneys.
A preliminary hearing previously scheduled for Sept. 19 was postponed during the brief appearance. Jeffs and his attorneys will return to court Sept. 27, when a new preliminary hearing date will likely be set. Bail may or may not be discussed.
With his trademark bow tie and deliberately mismatched socks, Bugden appears a bit eccentric at first impression.
But he is a no-nonsense advocate with 28 years of experience. And with more than 200 criminal trials under his belt, Bugden ranks among Utah's top defense attorneys.
In 2000, Bugden and Isaacson won an acquittal for psychiatrist Robert Weitzel, accused of killing five elderly patients with morphine overdoes in Davis County. Weitzel was charged with five homicide counts, but Bugden and Isaacson convinced jurors Weitzel ordered the morphine as end-of-life care.
Steve Major, a Davis County deputy attorney who faced Bugden and Isaacson in the Weitzel trial, said the pair are professional and accomplished lawyers.
"They are very good attorneys," Major said. "They're very creative."
During the past six years, Bugden has won 22 of 27 trials, ranging from manslaughter, negligent homicide, forcible sexual abuse, rape, assault and drunk driving, according to Bugden and Isaacson's Web site.
During her 10-year career, Isaacson has won 15 jury acquittals, the site says.
Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, faces two Utah charges of being an accomplice to rape for his role arranging a marriage between a teenage girl and an older man. The crime is punishable by five years to life in prison.
He faces similar charges in Arizona, though the penalty there is less severe.
Jeffs, 50, was arrested Aug. 28 during a routine traffic stop just outside of Las Vegas on Interstate 15. He had been listed as a federal fugitive for about a year and spent nearly four months on the FBI's Most Wanted list.
Jeffs' video appearance Monday once again prompted heavy security in the courtroom, as eight deputies attended and armed officers surrounded the building.
Richard A. Wright, who is representing Jeffs in a Nevada civil case, filed a request last week in U.S. District Court asking that electronic and paper documents found with Jeffs at the time of his arrest be sealed, and those items and others be returned to him.
The documents include "certain religious materials deemed sacred and confidential" and "privileged communication with FLDS members," Wright said in his filing.
The items Jeffs wants returned include religious books and writings, letters, two computers, dictating and recording devices and more than $50,000 in cash.
Wright said there is reason to believe the FBI may already have reviewed the documents, despite not having a search warrant.
The sect leader adopted a low profile in the polygamous community in 2003, following Utah's successful prosecution of a local police officer on charges of bigamy and sexual conduct with a minor.
He made one of his last public appearances in January 2004, when he expelled 21 men from the faith during a church service.
Jeffs was transferred from Nevada to Utah last Tuesday and is incarcerated at the Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane.
The jail is about a 45-minute drive from the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., where about 6,000 FLDS members live.
Tribune reporter Jason Bergreen contributed to this report.