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Attorney says polygamists’ faith relevant to water hearing

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The attorney for a western South Dakota woman attempting to stop a polygamous sect from using more water at its compound says evidence about the secretive group’s faith and background is relevant to whether regulators should grant the request.

Michael Hickey, the attorney for nearby landowner Linda Van Dyke Kilcoin, is fighting an effort by the group to keep discussion of its religion and the personal information of members from proceedings in front of the South Dakota Water Management Board on Thursday. He argued in a filing this week that the conduct and practices of the group are relevant to whether it’s in the public interest to grant the group’s permit to access more water at the remote compound.

“They’re basically trying to prohibit any testimony concerning anything that they don’t want to talk about,” Hickey said in an interview on Wednesday, after the filing was posted.

The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources has also asked that the evidence not be severely limited.

The request for more water comes from Seth Jeffs, brother of imprisoned sect leader Warren Jeffs, and members of the United Order of South Dakota, a trust run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, which is headquartered in a community along the Utah-Arizona border. The group’s secrecy and history — Warren Jeffs and other FLDS leaders have been convicted of sexually assaulting underage girls — have raised concerns about how many people live at the compound and whether the request for more water means more members will be moving there.

Jeffrey Connolly, an attorney for the group, has argued in a filing to state regulators that information about the group’s faith isn’t relevant to the application. He also asked that evidence regarding details about the trust be excluded, which Hickey believes could show that Seth Jeffs doesn’t have the authority to act for the group.

Connolly declined a request for comment. Seth Jeffs didn’t respond to a telephone message.

Seth Jeffs pleaded guilty in 2006 to harboring his then-fugitive brother, but he did not face any sex abuse charges. Hickey said in the filing that his client should be able to ask about the conviction because it deals with Jeffs’ credibility.

The group should have to disclose how many people are served by the compound’s water system, Hickey wrote in his filing. Connolly is arguing that municipalities or rural water organizations wouldn’t have to disclose the exact number of people using their water.

Hickey is also pushing for the group’s application to be dismissed because he argues the trust isn’t a legal entity and says Seth Jeffs wasn’t authorized to request the additional water for the group.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources argued in a document that nothing suggests Jeffs lacked the authority to submit the water application.

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