SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has denied a request by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a restraining order in a series of lawsuits alleging sex abuse in a church-run program for Navajo children.
In the order handed down Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby granted a request by the alleged victims and dismissed the LDS Church’s request for a preliminary injunction.
“Plaintiffs must exhaust their Tribal Court remedies before seeking relief from this court,” Judge Shelby wrote.
The judge agreed with the alleged sex abuse victims that the case should be heard in Navajo Tribal Court first. LDS Church attorneys had argued in court that federal court in Salt Lake City was the appropriate venue, since the lawsuits claim that the abuse occurred in off the Navajo reservation in Utah.
“Exhaustion of Doe Defendants’ cases before the Tribal Court will promote tribal self-government and the development of the Tribal Courts. Requiring exhaustion will allow the Tribal Court to assess its own jurisdiction in the first instance. As discussed above, Doe Defendants’ claims present complex factual and legal issues. Enabling the Tribal Court to carefully analyze these issues will likely advance the Tribal Court’s jurisdictional jurisprudence,” Judge Shelby wrote.
Four people are suing the LDS Church, accusing it of not doing enough to stop abuse they claim happened to them in the church-run “Lamanite Placement Program” or “Indian Student Placement Program” in the 1960s and 1970s. The LDS Church has said it has made changes to its abuse reporting policies in recent years, including better methods of tracking accused abusers.
The LDS Church did not immediately have a comment on the ruling.
“We are pleased with the decision that followed well established law,” Billy Keeler, an attorney for the people suing the church, said in an email to FOX 13.
The ruling does not clarify what happens to a subpoena of LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson to give a deposition in the case. At a hearing in August, Judge Shelby put the subpoena on hold while he ruled on the injunction request.
The lawyers for the four unnamed defendants have argued that President Monson’s testimony is necessary because he may have some knowledge of other LDS general authorities’ activities or church relations at the time with the Navajo tribe. The LDS Church has opposed the subpoena for deposition.
Read the judge’s ruling here: