Judge tosses FLDS from land case, sets date for sale of temple site

Judge tosses FLDS from land case, sets date for sale of temple site

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A judge has denied a request by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to intervene in the ongoing and massive litigation over the polygamous sect's property arm.

In a ruling handed down on Friday, Judge Denise P. Lindberg rejected requests by FLDS members Willie Jessop, Dan Johnson, Merlin Jessop, Lyle Jeffs and James Oler to intervene in the case involving the United Effort Plan (UEP) Trust.

"It is black letter law that potential beneficiaries of charitable trusts have no right to make claims upon such trusts," Lindberg wrote. "Because the UEP Trust is a charitable trust, the only individuals with legally cognizable interests are the Utah and Arizona Attorneys General as representatives of the community, and the court-designated special fiduciary."

In 2005, the courts took control of the UEP Trust which controls land in the FLDS communities of Hildale, Utah; Colorado City, Ariz.; and Bountiful, British Columbia in Canada. The Utah Attorney General's Office alleged that Warren Jeffs and other FLDS leaders had mismanaged it, including defaulting on a series of civil lawsuits. She appointed an accountant to act as special fiduciary of the trust, with its estimated $100 million in assets.

The UEP was set up in the early Mormon concept of a "united order" where everything is put into a common pot and doled out according to just wants and needs (the FLDS Church is a breakaway sect from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which no longer practices polygamy and excommunicates those who do).

After years of silence, FLDS members recently sued to stop some of the reforms being enacted by the courts. They have argued, in part, that some of the reforms violate their right to practice their religion by preventing them from consecrating their property to their faith. The reforms approved by Lindberg do away with communal property in favor or private property ownership.

Since being taken over, the trust has become plagued with debt. To pay some bills, the court-appointed accountant who oversees it sought to sell land in Colorado City known as "Berry Knoll." The FLDS sued, claiming the land was prophesied to be a holy temple site one day. The judge halted the sale while all sides in the protracted case discussed a global settlement.

On Friday, Judge Lindberg scheduled a June 29 date to discuss selling the property. In her ruling, she said the FLDS were supposed to make monthly $64,000 payments in a show of "good faith" in settlement talks. The judge expressed displeasure that the money wasn't forthcoming.

"The Court concludes that the promises and representations upon which the stay of sale and litigation were predicted have not been honored," Lindberg wrote.

The judge ordered the Utah Attorney General's Office to deposit more than $192,000 the FLDS had paid, but was withheld from the fiduciary because of a dispute over the sale of cows from a church farm.

The judge's order gives the Utah Attorney General a 48-hour deadline to hand over the money.

E-mail: bwinslow@ksl.com

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