Navajo Nation asks to jump into sex abuse lawsuits against the LDS Church

SALT LAKE CITY — The Navajo Nation is seeking to intervene in a series of sex abuse lawsuits filed against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, arguing to have the cases heard in its tribal courts.

In a pair of court filings on Friday, the Navajo Nation’s Department of Justice asks a federal judge to allow it to intervene in a legal dispute between the LDS Church and the alleged sex abuse victims. It also asks the judge to allow the case to be heard in Navajo Tribal Court in New Mexico and not Utah, as the LDS Church wishes.

“In this case, because there are facts alleging nonmember activities, and agreements with tribal members and the tribe, all possibly occurring on the reservation, the jurisdiction of the Tribal Court is colorable under the theory that tribal courts ‘retain inherent sovereign power to exercise some forms of civil jurisdiction over non-Indians on their reservations,'” Navajo Nation attorney K. Andrew Fitzgerald wrote.

Four people are suing the LDS Church, alleging they were sexually abused in the 1960s and 1970s while participating in the faith’s “Indian Student Placement Program.” Some of the people suing claim they reported abuse to church authorities, who did nothing about it. The lawyers for the four want the case heard on Navajo Tribal Court. The LDS Church is arguing that if any abuse occurred off the reservation and in Utah, it should be heard in federal court in Salt Lake City.

Most recently, attorneys for the church have asked the judge to dismiss a subpoena requiring LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson to give a deposition. A hearing is scheduled Monday in federal court.