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Judge Upholds Main Street Land Swap

Judge Upholds Main Street Land Swap

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John Daley reporting A major court ruling in the controversial fight over free speech and Salt Lake's Main Street Plaza.

A federal court judge in Utah upheld the Main Street land swap between the city and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It means the Main Street land agreement stands.

Free speech advocates had argued the sale of the city's pedestrian easement to the LDS Church was unconstitutional. But in an 82 page ruling, Judge Dale Kimball rejected that argument.

Twice the issue has gone to court.

Round One--opponents of the sale of a block of Main Street to the Church ultimately prevailed when the appeals court--the Tenth Circuit in Denver-- ruled free speech could not be prohibited on a pedestrian easement there.

Round Two: after much public wrangling, the city swapped the public easement for five million dollars and land for a new neighborhood center in Glendale.

That led to a new lawsuit, with opponents claiming the city and the Church were too cozy, violating the Establishment Clause--the constitutional separation of church and state.

But in a lengthy ruling, Judge Dale Kimball rejected that, writing:

"The city's decision to follow the Tenth Circuit's suggestion that it relinquish the property to make it completely private--while extracting over $5 million from the LDS Church in exchange for the Easement--is not unconstitutional under any reading of the Establishment Clause."

The mayor was unavailable for comment tonight, but last year he said he thought the city was on solid legal ground.

Mayor Rocky Anderson/ June 2003: "I think everybody has taken a much harder look at these constitutional issues than initially."

An attorney for the Church issued this statement: "The Church is gratified that the district court has ruled in its favor...We hope all the controversy can now be put behind us."

One plaintiff says he was not surprised by the ruling.

Lee Siegel/ Plaintiff: "I think time and again it's been shown to get justice in Utah, you have to go to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver."

The head of Utah's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Dani Eyer, says the ruling was "not unexpected but we are disappointed."

She says the decision will "probably" be appealed to the higher court--the 10th Circuit Court in Denver.

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