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The U.S. Department of Justice is continuing its civil rights lawsuit against the polygamous towns on the Utah-Arizona border, and a recent ruling from a judge may give them a glimpse behind closed doors at the towns' governments.
U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland in Phoenix on Oct. 27 ordered Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., as well as related utilities controlled by the towns, to give the Justice Department minutes or notes from non-public meetings held by their respective governing councils or boards. The order covers meetings held since 2005.
For meetings where an attorney was present or on the telephone, the towns need to produce a log stating the date of the meeting and a general description of why the record should not be disclosed.
"Hildale and Colorado City sit in executive session a lot without any lawyers," said William Walker, a Tucson, Ariz., attorney who earlier this year won a settlement against the towns in a related case. "So how can you be using the executive session properly to get advice from your lawyers if the lawyers aren't there?"
Blake Hamilton, an attorney for Hildale, on Friday said his clients have nothing to hide, but the town council entered closed meetings with the expectation the discussion would remain confidential. Hamilton said he will likely provide the Justice Department with heavily redacted minutes.
"A lot of those executive sessions I was on the phone discussing legal strategy with the city," Hamilton said.
Court filings indicate the Justice Department believes the minutes will show the true reason why Hildale and Colorado City fired employees, denied city services and took other adverse actions against people who do not follow the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and its president, Warren Jeffs.
The Justice Department in 2012 filed a civil rights lawsuit against Hildale and Colorado City, alleging the towns particularly the police force they share discriminate against people who do not follow the church and Jeffs. The Justice Department and the towns have spent two years deposing witnesses and arguing over what records the towns need to share.
No trial date has been set. Hamilton thinks the lawsuit could go to trial in fall 2015.
Lawyers for Hildale and Colorado City have argued in motions that the Justice Department has failed to show patterns of discrimination.
Hamilton said the Justice Department is focusing on misconduct by the towns' marshals that happened years ago. No marshals from Hildale and Colorado City have been had their police certifications revoked since 2007.
Hamilton said the Utah Peace Officers Standards and Training Council, which regulates police in the state, recently investigated three cadets from Hildale and Colorado City to determine whether they would be loyal to the FLDS Church or the law. After a lengthy investigation, Hamilton said, the cadets were approved to attend Utah's police academy.
Hamilton said he's worried the Justice Department is targeting the towns for their religion.
"I think the Department of Justice is walking a fine line in doing exactly what it accuses the cities of," Hamilton said.
The Justice Department lawsuit was filed after Walker filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ron and Jinjer Cooke, who moved to Colorado City and were denied a water connection for five years. In a federal civil trial in Phoenix earlier this year, a jury awarded the Cookes $5.2 million. After the verdict, the parties reached a settlement. The dollar amount of the settlement has not yet been disclosed.
The lawsuit filed by the Justice Department is broader. It alleges discrimination against a swath of people who don't follow Jeffs. But it uses much of the same evidence and witnesses who testified in the Cooke trial, discussing police surveillance and harassment and denial of utilities.
The lawsuit also delves into the machinations of the town governments, which the Justice Department suggests is far from secular.
In one example described in court filings, former Colorado City and Hildale marshal Helaman Barlow said he was treated differently after he quit following Jeffs' United Order an elite group of the FLDS chosen by Jeffs.
Barlow gave a deposition on Nov. 21, during which an attorney showed him writings and dictations from Jeffs. Colorado City Town Manager David Darger was at the deposition but left the room when the Jeffs documents appeared. Barlow later explained United Order members are forbidden from viewing FLDS priesthood records.
Four days after the deposition, Darger accused Barlow of drinking the morning of the deposition and having beer on his breath. Barlow, who denied drinking that morning, received a written reprimand. Hildale later fired Barlow after a closed-door meeting. He believes his termination was retaliation for no longer following Jeffs.
Barlow has become a key witness for the Justice Department. In an April deposition, he described how the marshals would obstruct other law enforcement by alerting Hildale and Colorado City residents that someone was there to serve them with a subpoena, would forward confidential law enforcement information to a courier with the assumption it would go to Jeffs or his brother Lyle, and in at least one case another marshal took an underage girl as plural wife and none of the other marshals did anything about it.
In the recent ruling in federal court, Hildale and Colorado City argued that all records from closed-door executive meetings should not be given to the Justice Department because the meetings were used to discuss legal matters. Attorneys for the towns also advised clients not to answer deposition questions inquiring what happened in the meetings.
The Justice Department, in its court filings, pointed out that attorneys were not present for many of the closed meetings. Also, the department argued, Utah and Arizona meeting laws have exceptions that allow minutes of closed meetings to be shared for legal proceedings or when served with a subpoena.