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Utah Supreme Court punts on polygamous trust case

Published June 16, 2011 4:57 pm

Sect • Attorney General's Office is disappointed with order favoring church.
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Dashing the hopes of the Utah Attorney General's Office, the Utah Supreme Court has decided to sit on two cases related to a polygamous sect's property trust until a federal appeals court makes a decision.

The order released Thursday sides with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, whose attorneys argued the justices should wait to rule on two cases: one dealing with whether certain sect members should have a greater legal voice in the dispute, another with whether longtime FLDS attorney Rod Parker should be disqualified.

"We're disappointed they chose not to make a decision," said Utah Solicitor General Annina Mitchell. She had argued for a ruling that could have derailed a federal judge's February decision that the state acted illegally when it took over the FLDS property trust in 2005. Parker did not immediately return a call for comment.

The Attorney General's Office is appealing the decision by U.S. District Judge Dee Benson to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

But the Utah Supreme Court could potentially have nullified Benson's ruling if it ruled its own decision to throw out the case last year based on a rare legal principle was binding on other courts. If the Supreme Court had decided that decision was binding, Benson may not have had jurisdiction to rule in the first place.

In Thursday's order, however, the justices bypassed that option, leaving the decision in the hands of the 10th Circuit.

The long-running court battle is over the $110 million United Effort Plan trust, which holds nearly all the land and property in the Warren Jeffs-led group's home base of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah.

The sect is fighting to regain control of the trust, which the state took over six years ago amid allegations of mismanagement by FLDS trustees.

The sect's three-year court fight heated up with Benson's decisions, first that the takeover was illegal and second to temporarily hand back control to the FLDS.

The latter prompted a showdown between Benson and the state court judge who had been overseeing the trust since the takeover, 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg, over whether a court-appointed trust administrator should turn over records.

The 10th Circuit stepped in and sided with Lindberg, ruling the state should stay in control temporarily but not make any major changes to trust assets.

Also this week, the court-appointed administrator, Bruce Wisan, argued in court documents that the state of Utah should pay the outstanding bills to his firm, attorneys and others since they were last paid in 2008. The total, attorneys said, is $4.6 million.


Twitter: @lwhitehurst —

What's next?

P The state continues to be in temporary control of the United Effort Plan trust while a federal appeals court considers the case. Briefs are due in that case on July 11.




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