Members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church are seeking to block the sale of land in the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
An emergency hearing was held Monday afternoon in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court where lawyers for FLDS members Willie Jessop, Dan Johnson and Merlin Jessop are asking to halt the sale of any property under the control of the United Effort Plan Trust.
"Such sales pose an immediate and fundamental threat to the religious communal lifestyle and beliefs of the community because they threaten its self-sufficiency, and thus are contrary to law, constitutional rights, and the best interests of the people who live on Trust property and rely on it for their sustenance," FLDS lawyer Rod Parker wrote in court papers filed Aug. 18.
But lawyers for the UEP Trust said the emergency request illustrates the problem that has plagued the FLDS Church's real-estate holdings arm since it was taken over by the courts in 2005.
"Many members of the Trust's beneficiary class simply refuse to recognize the authority and the actions of this court," wrote lawyer Jeffrey L. Shields, who represents the court-appointed special fiduciary. "Such beneficiaries repeatedly ignore this court's rulings, and act as if the former trustees/FLDS religious leaders are, or should be, still in control of the trust."
During the hearing, the judge said she would take the issue under advisement, but said she viewed the emergency motion as a challenge to the actions of the fiduciary.
The courts took control of the UEP Trust amid allegations that Warren Jeffs and other FLDS leaders mismanaged it. A judge signed off on a reform plan, which paves the way for private property ownership, doing away with the early-Mormon concept of a "united order" that the trust was based upon. For the past three years, trust lawyers claim the FLDS have remained silent on any changes until now.
The trust, which is land rich but more than $1.25 million in debt, is administered by court-appointed special fiduciary Bruce Wisan, whom Parker said is trying to sell land to raise money. During an Aug. 14 court hearing, Wisan said he is planning to sell a large parcel of land but refused to divulge details of the transaction. Parker identified it in court documents as Berry Knoll Farm, a swath of land located near the Colorado City airport. He said the land is used to feed the people, with produce going to the FLDS Bishop's Storehouse.
"Obviously, without such information, rank-and-file FLDS members, who are the most affected by transactions involving Trust property, are deprived of any voice in the management of the Trust insofar as it relates to its most core principles: the ability of the community to be self-sustaining in furtherance of the United Order principles it espouses," Parker wrote.
Lawyers for the FLDS ask to halt any land sales for 90 days and require any property transactions to have a judge's approval as well as outside input. Wisan's lawyers argue that as fiduciary, he has the discretion to sell property and accuses the FLDS of using the property without permission.
"The Movants shamelessly admit that their use of the property was at the discretion of FLDS priesthood leadership," Shields wrote. "Indeed, the Movants reveal that proceeds from their unauthorized use have gone directly to the FLDS Church."