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Court ruling a setback for polygamist trust

By Paul Foy

The Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 2 2012 4:16 p.m. MDT

Attorney Jeff Shields addresses the Utah Supreme Court, which heard arguments in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 12, 2011, on cases involving the FLDS Church's United Effort Plan land trust.

Trent Nelson

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court ruled Tuesday for a second time that a polygamist sect waited too long to challenge a court-ordered takeover of its community finances.

State lawyers have long maintained that the Fundamentalist LDS Church lost its opportunity by taking no action for years after it lost control of the property trust in 2005. The trust owns most of the homes, businesses and other assets in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

Tuesday's decision could help settle conflicting decisions by state and federal judges over whether Utah had the power to seize the trust, lawyers on both sides said.

Utah Solicitor General Bridget K. Romano called the dispute a "many-headed beast in many jurisdictions."

"We're pleased by this ruling," Romano said. "This is a decision we've been waiting for because of its importance. It gives needed direction to the federal court system."

U.S. District Judge Dee Benson ordered Utah last year to hand the trust back to the FLDS Church in a ruling that held the seizure violated its constitutional rights.

Utah appealed Benson's order to the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver. The appeals court paused to consider a previous decision by the Utah Supreme Court, which had held the church had waited too long — until 2009 — to challenge the 2005 takeover.

The federal Court of Appeals sought advice from the Utah Supreme Court on whether claims barred in state courts should be dismissed in federal courts.

However, the Utah Supreme Court "limited its decision to state law," FLDS attorney Rod Parker said Tuesday. "It's now up to the federal court to decide what effect state law has on federal law."

The fight isn't over, said Parker, adding that he believes the 10th Circuit could still decide to take up the case on its constitutional merits.

"I'm going to meet with the leaders of the community and talk about their options," he said.

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