The future of the Fundamentalist LDS Church's real-estate holdings arm may hang on a lawsuit filed by a former child bride.
That's what attorneys for the court-controlled United Effort Plan Trust claim in new court papers filed in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court. In a renewed motion for summary judgment over a multimillion dollar personal injury lawsuit filed by Elissa Wall, lawyers for the UEP Trust fear that if a judge holds the trust liable it may not survive.
"Not only would the Trust face significant exposure to the plaintiff in the present case, such a holding would encourage other parties injured by Warren Jeffs' misconduct to pursue claims against the Trust," lawyer Jeffrey L. Shields wrote.
"Given the large number of Mr. Jeffs' victims, and the serious nature of his crimes, the Trust may well lose all of its assets to tort plaintiffs harmed by Mr. Jeffs leaving nothing for the numerous innocent beneficiaries who presently reside in houses on Trust property."
At best, Shields suggests, UEP assets would be depleted through attorney fees and other costs in defending against the potential flood of lawsuits.
Wall, who was married at age 14 to her 19-year-old cousin in a ceremony presided over by Jeffs, was the star witness in Utah's prosecution of the FLDS leader. He was ultimately convicted of rape as an accomplice, and is serving a pair of 5-to-life sentences. Jeffs is also facing charges in Arizona and was recently indicted by a Texas grand jury on a sexual assault of a child charge.
Wall's ex-husband, Allen Steed, is facing a rape charge in St. George's 5th District Court.
Under the pseudonym "M.J.," she filed a lawsuit against Jeffs, the FLDS Church and the UEP Trust over the marriage. Wall's attorneys argue that under Jeffs' rule, the UEP was intertwined with the church and its leader.
"It is merely the alter-ego of Jeffs and the FLDS Church," Roger Hoole wrote in court documents seeking to keep the UEP on the hook for damages.
The UEP Trust controls homes, businesses and property in the FLDS strongholds of Hildale, Utah; Colorado City, Ariz.; and Bountiful, British Columbia in Canada. In 2005, a judge took control of the trust and its estimated $110 million assets amid allegations that Jeffs and other FLDS leaders mismanaged it.
The trust was recently reformed, paving the way for eventual private property ownership. It has been a struggle to collect taxes and the court-appointed fiduciary over the trust has threatened residents with eviction over occupancy agreements and monthly fees. The fiduciary has also gone after Jeffs and others within the church for multimillion dollar judgments and has filed numerous court papers seeking to uncover records and assets.
Shields said Wall should be suing the FLDS Church, Jeffs and her ex-husband Allen Steed, not the UEP and thousands of innocent people.
"Exposing the charitable UEP Trust to liability for the unlawful acts of Warren Jeffs would come at a high cost to the men, women and children currently living in homes on trust land who have never endorsed child rape or any other unlawful acts alleged by plaintiff," he wrote.
Wall's attorney, Greg Hoole, said the lawsuit is not about making anybody rich but holding people accountable."Elissa Wall has made it very clear she does not intend to keep any of the money that will likely be awarded to her," he said. "It's essentially about accountability and the trust needs to step up and be held accountable for its role in the abuses that have been perpetuated against children over the past decades in this community."