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

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

Wisan called Belnap's commitment to enforce the law a "huge step."

Additional similar incidents are expected because Jeffs has reportedly set a Dec. 31 deadline for church members to prove their loyalty by way of intense personal interviews and an order that male members pay $5,000 a month to the church — a move that has prompted some members to move and others to be excommunicated by those in the faith.

"It's a possibility," Wisan said of added tension and altercations like the one Holm has found himself in. I certainly think that other confrontations could occur, because the feeling seems to be ratcheting up."

The school is just one of many properties owned by the United Effort Plan trust, which was created by the FLDS Church in 1942 on the concept of a "united order," allowing followers to share in its assets. Utah courts took control of the trust in 2005 following allegations that it had been mismanaged by Jeffs. Wisan, an accountant, was appointed to oversee management of the trust.

Members of the sect have long held that 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg's decision to reform the trust, which is valued at more than $110 million and holds most of the property in Hildale, Colorado City and Bountiful, British Columbia, and appoint Wisan was a violation of their First Amendment rights to practice their religion freely.

In February, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson issued a ruling calling state action to oversee the UEP trust a "virtual takeover" that was totally unconstitutional. Benson issued an injunction ordering that the church's assets be returned to FLDS leaders and prohibiting any further action by the state-appointed special fiduciary when it came to management of the trust.

Lindberg responded by ordering that the special fiduciary maintain control over the trust's assets, but agreed that no action should be taken until the issue is resolved. Lindberg then appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to halt implementation of Benson's order. The appeals court issued an indefinite stay on Benson's order until it can resolve the case, finding there could be a "threat of irreparable harm" if it did not grant Lindberg's request.

Still, the complaint filed Thursday states that church members are using Benson's order as justification for their actions.

"In an argumentative and loud manner, Berklee Holm (a brother to Richard and Thomas) also said that Bruce Wisan was not in charge, that they would not recognize his authority, that Judge Lindberg was wrong, that Judge Benson had taken control, and that Judge Benson had given the control over to the FLDS."

The next day, Richard Holm presented the occupancy agreement and a copy of the 10th Circuit order that Benson's ruling be stayed to police and they had the FLDS members dispersed. But when Holm returned the next day, he discovered church members had slept overnight in the school.

In the complaint, he asked for the temporary restraining order, damages and a declaratory judgment that would return possession of the school to Holm and prevent church members from interfering with him. The temporary restraining order issued by Kennedy will be in effect until Jan. 3, when a preliminary injunction hearing will be scheduled.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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