Appeals court defuses showdown between federal and state judges
SALT LAKE CITY — An appeals court Friday afternoon pre-empted a high noon showdown between federal and state judges embroiled in a feud over management of a polygamous church's finances.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily suspended a hearing at which U.S. District Judge Dee Benson expected 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg to explain why she should not be held in contempt of court. Benson contends Lindberg failed to follow his ruling regarding the Fundamentalist LDS Church's $110 million trust fund. The hearing was scheduled for noon Monday.
The Denver-based appeals court also put on hold Benson's preliminary injunction that touched off the judicial duel. That order removed Lindberg and court-appointed special fiduciary Bruce Wisan as administrators of the trust known as the United Effort Plan.
"No actions shall be taken to enforce or implement either of the stayed orders until this temporary stay is lifted," the circuit court judges wrote.
Parties in the case now have until April 22 to challenge or extend the stays and file other motions in the case.
Court motions have flown fast and furious the past two days between the federal and state courts.
Benson initially wanted Lindberg to appear before him on Friday. But Lindberg is in Arizona attending an uncle's funeral. When informed of her plans, Benson threatened to send federal marshals to force Lindberg to show up before rescheduling the hearing for Monday, court documents state.
Calling Benson's ruling in the ongoing intra-court clash an "immediate crisis," Lindberg turned to the appeals court for help.
Benson, in his order filed late Thursday, noted that a motion to appeal had not been filed in his court.
"Rather than seek any such legal remedy from this court, Judge Lindberg has declared that she will resist and disobey this court's lawfully entered order," Benson wrote.
In his order, Benson refers to the state judge as "defendant Lindberg."
Benson issued a preliminary injunction last week ordering Lindberg and Wisan to cease managing the trust fund and to turn it over to the Corporation of the President of the FLDS Church.
On Monday, Lindberg issued a four-page order in 3rd District Court refusing to adhere to Benson's order, saying it would cause irreparable harm to those who have relied on her decisions for the six years she has overseen the trust. She also instructed Wisan to not turn over assets, documents or anything else pertaining to the trust until she orders otherwise.
That prompted Benson to set up a face-to-face legal battle.
"Accordingly, defendant Judge Lindberg is hereby ordered to appear and show cause, if any, why she should not be held in contempt of court for failing to abide this court's preliminary injunction order and for ordering defendant Bruse Wisan to also violate the preliminary injunction order," Benson wrote.
The UEP was created by the FLDS Church in 1942 on the concept of a "united order," allowing followers to share in its assets. Members consider sharing its assets a religious principle and see state intervention in the trust as a violation of their religious rights.
The trust holds most of the property and homes in the twin FLDS communities located in the border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. It was taken over by the courts in 2005 over allegations it had been mismanaged by FLDS leaders.
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