A judge has granted a permanent restraining order barring polygamous sect leaders loyal to Warren Jeffs from a large school building used as a church by followers of a rival prophet.
In a hearing Monday, 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg ordered the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints not to "interfere" or "harass" people using the Holm School Building. FLDS attorneys did not appear at the hearing.
The ruling comes after a high-tension December standoff over growing divisions in the community and control of the sect's property trust, which was taken over by the state of Utah in 2005.
"This was one step in making it clear that the [FLDS] community and law enforcement needs to comply with the rule of law and respect the court decisions and ruling and enforcement," saidattorneyRoger Hoole. He represents Tom Holm, who ran an FLDS private school until he was excommunicated on Dec. 15.
The day after Holm was tossed out, his former brethren changed the locks on the building, which is one of the largest in the sect's home base of Colorado City, Ariz. and Hildale, Utah. Over the next five days, they stayed in the building overnight and constructed new fencing to keep Holm and his supporters out, according to court documents.
But Holm has a legal right to use the building through a court-approved occupancy agreement held by his brother, former member Richard Holm. On Dec. 20, the Washington County Sheriff intervened in the standoff along with the county attorney and several deputies, and the FLDS men left.
Since then, followers of William E. Jessop have been using the building for Sunday services. Their numbers have grown to some 1,000 people, according to Willie R. Jessop, a former spokesman for the FLDS who now opposes Jeffs.
A former FLDS church elder, William E. Jessop emerged last March to say that he, not Jeffs, was the true prophet of the sect. Despite condemnation from FLDS leaders, he's been gathering followers.
"That's a major thorn in Warren's side, to have them growing that fast," said community resident Isaac Wyler, who testified at the Monday hearing.
The Holm schoolhouse, located at 1055 Carling St.,in Hildale, gives the group a large, prominent place to meet in the heart of the community a blow to the sect leadership.
Washington County's intervention also showed that police outside the twin polygamous towns would enforce state-granted occupancy agreements amid turmoil in the community, County Attorney Brock Belnap said at the time. Dozens of FLDS have been kicked out over the last year, which typically means they have to leave their homes on sect-controlled property. Members are living under restrictive new rules, including a ban on sex, and earlier this month, more than 1,000 people were put on a kind of spiritual "probation" and told they are unworthy to attend church.
The FLDS did not respond as the Holm brothers filed for and received a temporary restraining order barring the FLDS from the building on Dec. 22. Blake Hamilton, an attorney for the City of Hildale, said the marshal's office for the twin towns will enforce the court order.
"I don't think there's been any problems," since the temporary restraining order was issued, Hamilton said.
Lindberg ruled earlier this month to join the Holm schoolhouse case with the larger court case overseeing the sect's communal property trust, according to court records. She's overseen the trust case since it was taken over by the state in 2005 amid allegations of mismanagement by FLDS trustees.
Since the state takeover, court-appointed administrator Bruce Wisan has granted legal ownership of trust property through occupancy agreements, though active members of the sect have generally been reluctant to sign them.
Control of the trust has been in flux since early last year, when a federal judge ruled the state had acted illegally in taking over the trust and ordered it handed back to the sect. But the state appealed that ruling and a federal appeals court put the handback on hold until it rules, something that likely will not happen until late this year at the earliest.
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