Citing 'eroded' respect for the court, judge issues restraining order in FLDS school dispute

Published: Thursday, Dec. 22 2011 6:00 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Fearing that respect for the court has "eroded" among those belonging to the FLDS Church, a 3rd District judge issued a temporary restraining order Thursday that will require members of the polygamous sect and law enforcement to follow its dictates in a property occupancy issue.

The ruling came as tensions are reportedly rising in the border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., because of a deadline church leader Warren Jeffs has reportedly set for church members to prove their loyalty to him.

Judge John Paul Kennedy issued the ruling following a hearing in an effort to keep members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church out of a Hildale-area school that was leased to a former sect member. According to a complaint filed Thursday, a number of FLDS members have been occupying the school buildings even though the former member of their faith still holds a valid occupancy agreement.

Richard Holm filed the complaint in 3rd District Court Thursday alleging that Jeffs, Lyle Jeffs, the FLDS Church itself and a number of its members have attempted to take over the school, which he runs with his brother, after his brother fell out of favor with those in the church.

"Thomas Holm's standing among the FLDS has been placed in question to the point that it no longer appears that he is considered a member of the FLDS Church, and, as a result, a contest has arisen over the use and control the Holm School by Richard Holm and Thomas Holm on the one hand and the FLDS on the other," the complaint states. "As a result, the Holm brothers and the FLDS Church are asserting competing rights to the use and occupancy the Holm School."

Richard Holm was "expelled" from the church in 2003, but was issued a lease to the school, located at 1055 Carling Street in Hildale, Washington County, per a leasing agreement issued by state-appointed special fiduciary Bruce Wisan in 2006. According to the complaint, he and his brother have used the Holm School "as a school for their respective non-FLDS and FLDS children, as well as for the education of the children of dozens of other FLDS parents."

But after Thomas Holm's membership status was called into question, the complaint states, locks to the building were changed. They said they noticed several male FLDS Church members in the main building who would not allow Richard Holms inside.

An FLDS Church member informed Holm that the utilities had been transferred to his name and the school was now "priesthood property." Local police officers, who are generally aligned with Warren Jeffs and the church, arrived and said they would not order anyone to leave the property and said it was a "civil issue."

After Thursday's court hearing in which the order was entered, Holm's attorney Greg Hoole said the occupancy agreement Holm had should have been enough for police to evict the FLDS members, but police said eviction would require a court order. In the hearing, attorneys indicated Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap and the sheriff's office said they would help enforce the order, if it was entered.

"What I'm concerned with is the lack of respect for the court, particularly the 10th Circuit," the judge said Thursday. "It's very distressing that the court, that the rule of law seems to be eroded in this area."

Belnap said Washington County sheriff's officials responded to the school on Tuesday and were able to resolve matters peacefully, but he said they are prepared to help in the future, if need be. Still, he said the court is the proper venue to settle this issue.

"The point of the sheriff's office and my involvement is, 1) that until a judge says otherwise, holders of occupancy agreements are entitled to enjoy their property free from interference and, 2) is that people who disagree with that for whatever reason should address that matter in the court and not on the street level," he said.

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