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Shurtleff fears litigation 'war' over FLDS trust

Published: Thursday, May 21 2009 1:14 p.m. MDT

All sides in the fight over the Fundamentalist LDS Church's real-estate holdings arm will meet one last time Friday in an effort to settle the legal battle. But if they're unsuccessful, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff fears it will be an all-out "war."

"We've got to do one more, last try at this thing," Shurt?leff said in an interview with the Deseret News shortly after announcing his run for U.S. Senate. "Otherwise we'll be in litigation and those people will be at war for the next five years. This is the last time to take things into our own hands and resolve this issue without just enriching the lawyers. Hopefully, they'll do it."

Last month, all sides met in an effort to negotiate a settlement to the myriad lawsuits filed over the multimillion-dollar UEP Trust, which controls homes, businesses and property in the polygamous enclaves of Hildale, Utah; Colorado City, Ariz.; and Bountiful, British Columbia, Canada. Talks went on for days but resulted in no settlement.

"We're still trying," said Bruce Wisan, the court-appointed special fiduciary.

The specifics of the negotiations — including the sticking points — are being kept confidential.

"From our perspective the question is whether all the interested parties will confirm the major points already agreed to and move from there to hammer out the remaining details," FLDS attorney Stephen Clark said in an e-mail Thursday. "The FLDS Church is prepared to do that. Unfortunately, it seems other parties may not be as focused on moving forward and may in fact be backtracking, trying to undo the progress made and re-negotiate matters already addressed. I think it will be up to the Attorney General to show leadership in keeping the forward momentum and not allowing things to regress."

In 2005, a judge in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court took control of the trust over allegations that polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs and other FLDS leaders mismanaged it, including defaulting on a series of lawsuits against the church. After years of relative silence over the takeover and implemented changes, FLDS members fought back with a series of lawsuits challenging the reformed trust by arguing it violates their religious freedom right to consecrate their property to their faith.

When the fiduciary sought to sell property in Colorado City to pay off debts that the FLDS considered sacred, it led to a "stand down" while all sides attempted to negotiate a global settlement. Shurtleff told the Deseret News that this is the last chance to salvage a settlement before a hearing at the end of the month.

"It comes down to that chasm that exists between the FLDS and the non-FLDS. There's a hatred there and a distrust and a dislike. I thought I had them to the point where they all had to give something in order to resolve this, and apparently none of them are willing to give enough," Shurtleff said. "But we'll try one more time."

E-MAIL: bwinslow@desnews.com

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