SALT LAKE CITY — Utah filed a plan Friday for appointing a board of trustees that will turn homes, land and farms owned by a polygamous sect into private ownership.
State lawyers, however, told a judge that recruiting qualified board members will be difficult in a pair of towns on the Utah-Arizona border roiled by defections and split loyalties inside the Fundamentalist LDS Church. They said it could take the rest of the year to select a board to get started.
Third District Judge Denise Lindberg in Salt Lake City expressed frustration over the slow pace of Utah's 8-year-old takeover of FLDS assets in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
Progress has been set back by conflicting claims over the same properties, a raft of litigation, disputes over water rights and agricultural leases and the refusal of residents to pay occupancy fees or taxes to court-appointed officials, the judge said.
"I would like to be able to get out of this business," Lindberg said Friday in court. "This is not how I envisioned my judicial career proceeding."
Lindberg didn't immediately approve the plan for selecting trustees that was filed only minutes before Friday's court hearing. The plan got input from state lawyers for Arizona and Bruce Wisan, the Salt Lake City accountant appointed to liquidate church property, Wisan said.
Residents say no progress will be made until Utah breaks down large parcels holding multiple homes and assigns property to individual owners.
"This community is not an easy fix," said Willie Jessop, a former bodyguard and spokesman for FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, now serving a life prison in Texas for sexually assaulting two underage girls he took as brides.
Jessop was expelled by the church in 2011 and ordered to leave his home, family and give up his excavating business. He is trying to collect a $30 million court judgment against the church, a payment awaiting the sale of church-owned farms.
In court Friday, residents of the border towns explained their refusal to pay occupancy fees on homes they've long occupied, without any guarantee they'll be able to keep them. And they don't believe they should have to buy houses held by their families for generations.
LeRoy Stubbs said his occupancy fees started at $100 a month but rose to $1,000. He left the community years ago but recently returned to stake a claim on property.
"The sooner we can own our own property, we'll start taking care of our own problems," he told the judge.
Stubbs described the split between members and ex-FLDS members as "like the Sunnis and Kurds" of Iraq and added, "I haven't talked to my own mother in nine years."
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company