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A Utah judge on Wednesday decided to keep the man running a polygamous trust, despite his no contest plea to soliciting a prostitute.
The order is a surprise if only because nobody seemed to want Bruce Wisan to stay. The attorneys general in both Utah and Arizona and beneficiaries of the trust, called the United Effort Plan, filed motions asking Wisan be replaced.
Wisan has been fiduciary of the UEP since shortly after the state seized it in 2005. In her ruling Wednesday, Utah 3rd District Court Judge Denise Lindberg who oversees Wisan and the trust cited that experience in keeping him.
"... those who advocate a change in Fiduciary have presented no evidence suggesting that Mr. Wisan is not effectively managing the business and legal affairs of the Trust," Lindberg wrote in an order Wednesday. "As far as the Court can tell, whatever his personal issues may be, they have not affected Mr. Wisan's discharge of his professional duties."
"The loss of institutional memory and intimate knowledge of Trust issues that Mr. Wisan possesses would far outweigh whatever undefined and speculative benefit the AGs suggest would be gained from the change," Lindberg later wrote.
The "AGs" is a reference to motions made by the attorneys general in both Utah and Arizona. They had asked Wisan be replaced by former Utah Lt. Gov. Val Oveson Wisan's former accounting partner.
Oveson has assisted Wisan in UEP affairs for years and had taken a greater role since Wisan's legal problems began in August when a prosecutor in Taylorsville charged Wisan with a misdemeanor count of soliciting a prostitute.
The UEP owns much of the homes and land in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., which are homes of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The state seized the UEP in 2005 over concerns FLDS President Warren Jeffs was mismanaging the trust and putting people at risk of losing their homes.
Utah had no plans to still be managing the trust almost a decade later, but legal entanglements and unwillingness on the part of people loyal to Jeffs have delayed a goal of returning the trust or its assets to the UEP beneficiaries.
The UEP is said to have about $110 million in assets, but also has racked up millions in debts to attorneys and other professionals. A recent filing by the Utah Attorney General's Office said the UEP is accumulating about $100,000 a month in legal fees.
Attorneys representing Utah and Arizona, as well as lawyers representing beneficiaries of the UEP, also have complained over the years about Wisan's personality and his sometimes reluctance to follow others' opinions. Lindberg on Wednesday dismissed those concerns and appeared to criticize some of the attorneys wanting him replaced.
"Style-wise, it is fair to say that at times Mr. Wisan has not been as tactful as some might have preferred," Lindberg wrote. "That said, nine and one-half years ago Mr. Wisan was handed an unenviable task to perform. By and large he has performed his duties well, at times with little or no support from those who urged his appointment in the first place."
While Lindberg refused to replace Wisan, she did on Wednesday agree to begin appointing a permanent, nine-person board of trustees to help manage UEP affairs.
Lindberg appointed five of the trustees Wednesday: Greg Barlow, Deloy Bateman, Margaret Cooke, Arnold Richter and Don Timpson. All five were listed as candidates in February after a vetting from Lindberg.
In her order, Lindberg acknowledged it's not yet clear what the delineation of power will be between the trustees and Wisan and how the relationship will evolve. For now, according to Lindberg's order, Wisan will continue managing the day-to-day-operations of the UEP.
The trustees also are to relieve Lindberg of some responsibilities. Technically, she is retiring at the end of the year, but she plans to take what's called senior judge status and maintain oversight of the UEP.
Writing about herself in the third person Wednesday, Lindberg said "the amount of time the Court will be able to devote to [the UEP case] will be more limited."