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Hundreds of FLDS protest land sale; judge weighing options


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SALT LAKE CITY -- Hundreds of members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) showed up at the Matheson Courthouse Wednesday to show their opposition to the sale of land they believe is sacred.

A hearing was held in 3rd District Court, where a judge was considering the sale of several hundred acres of land known as "Berry Knoll."

After several hours of testimony and arguments, Judge Denise Lindberg declined to issue a ruling. However, she indicated she was open to the idea of opening the sale of the Colorado City, Ariz., farmland to the highest bidder.

FLDS member and spokesman Willie Jessop doesn't like it.

"She seems to just relish the idea of liquidating a trust that she, her constitutional duty was to protect it," Jessop told KSL Newsradio outside of court.

A court-appointed fiduciary who manages the United Effort Plan (UEP) Trust, which was taken over by the court in 2005, is seeking to sell the land to pay debt.

Members of the polygamous sect showed up en masse to show their displeasure over the proposed sale, startling security and drawing curious gazes. Many of them drove from southern Utah, Nevada and Arizona to be there.

They gathered for a rally after the hearing, clearly disappointed in what happened in the courtroom and believe the land sale is much more than an effort to pay off debt.

"So, when they are asking to sell the land, let's make it clear about what it is to fund. They established that, at least in my mind, very clear. It is to fund a war, psychological war, and then they want to say it's not about religion," Jessop told the crowd.

Members told KSL they don't like what has become of the UEP Trust since it was taken over by the courts and an accountant was appointed to oversee it. Several of the protesters say the land was wrongfully taken away to begin with.

FLDS member Galene Carlisle said, "I don't know why they would want to take it away in the first place. There was no reason, no need; there was no harm done, no wrong done."

Alvin Harker, also an FLDS member, said, "We've been under attack by those who would like to see our organization or religion destroyed. We are here in support of our leader and in support to retain our lands."

Members of other fundamental groups in Utah were also at the courthouse to lend support to the polygamous sect. Leaving the courthouse, the court-appointed fiduciary over the UEP Trust, Bruce Wisan, suggested members were told to come by FLDS leadership.

The UEP Trust was taken over by the court in 2005 over allegations that FLDS leader Warren Jeffs and others mismanaged it, including defaulting on a series of civil lawsuits. The trust, which is based on the early LDS concept of "united order," was reformed, doing away with the communal aspect of it, in favor of private property ownership.

The FLDS were largely silent on reform efforts for years, until recently. In a series of lawsuits, they have challenged trust reform, arguing that it violates their First Amendment rights to freely practice their religion, consecrating their property to the church.

Lindberg ordered a stand-down on the land sale, where all sides agreed to enter into settlement talks. The talks broke down, and several settlement proposals were submitted to the court. The judge rejected all of them.

Wisan said he doesn't see an end to the litigation anytime soon.

"If we can get some reasonable, equitable settlement situation then I think that's the way out," he told KSL Newsradio.

In a rare public statement at a rally at Washington Square late Wednesday, FLDS Bishop Lyle Jeffs thanked the crowd for coming and demonstrating their concern about

"You have the convictions that we know will take us into the presence of our Heavenly Father," he told the crowd.

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Story compiled with contributions from Ben Winslow, Sam Penrod and Shara Park.

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