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The U.S. Department of Justice and the towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., argued Tuesday whether there's enough evidence the towns and their police force discriminated against people who do not follow a polygamous church.

A judge's determination could determine whether the civil rights lawsuit filed by the Justice Department proceeds to trial and on what points.

Sean Keveney, an attorney for the Justice Department, said Tuesday there is "substantial evidence" the towns' governments are controlled by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and its president Warren Jeffs. That control has spurred the police force there to violate civil rights, Keveney said, and the towns' utility services to deny water connections that should have been granted.

"There is evidence the defendants engaged in a conspiracy with the FLDS to use their water policy to systematically discriminate against people who are not members of the FLDS Church," Keveney told U.S. District Judge H. H. Russel Holland.

Holland could rule in favor of any of the parties on some points and let a jury hear arguments on other points. No trial has been scheduled.

The oral arguments Tuesday were largely technical with the sides arguing whether proper procedure has been followed for Holland to issue what is called summary judgment, and if the Justice Department has met standards of proof. The Justice Department wants Holland to use the findings from a judge and jury in a related lawsuit filed by Ron and Jinjer Cooke and apply them to its case against the towns.

But at times, Tuesday's arguments got to the issue of whether there was discrimination in Hildale and Colorado City, collectively known as Short Creek.

Colorado City lawyer Jeff Matura said the Justice Department may have found evidence that the towns' marshals were poorly trained and performed badly, but not that they discriminated against people based on religion.

Matura also argued that applying findings from the Cooke case would be unfair since the case dealt with whether that couple was discriminated against when they were denied a water connection; the Justice Department lawsuit has more complaints alleging a wider variety of discrimination. Colorado City should have the chance to rebut those broader claims in front of a jury, Matura contended.

"It would be inappropriate to take the blanket of a fair housing claim and apply it almost with blinders on to this case without recognizing what was actually litigated and what was decided in the Cooke case," Matura said.

At a trial in federal court in Phoenix last year, the Cookes won a $5.2 million jury verdict. The case was later settled for $3 million.

The judge in that case also issued an order baring discrimination by Hildale and Colorado City governments for 10 years.

Hildale attorney Blake Hamilton on Tuesday said that order makes much of the Justice Department case against his clients moot. Hamilton asked that claims of housing discrimination against Hildale be dismissed.

"We do not believe it would be in the interest of judicial economy for this court to grant injunctive relief," Hamilton said.

Keveney said dismissing claims or evidence in the case would prevent the federal government from presenting a broad discrimination case to a jury.

"This court should have the opportunity to consider all of the evidence the United States intends to present at trial," Keveney said.

Holland said he would try to rule quickly to move the lawsuit, already three years old, toward a resolution. The case was slowed in 2014 by allegations that the Short Creek marshals altered or destroyed police reports sought by the Justice Department. Some of those reports were never retrieved.

The Department of Justice also had to take a new deposition from former Short Creek marshal Helaman Barlow. After the Cooke trial, Barlow admitted he had previously lied and — with a grant of immunity — told federal attorneys about how he would obstruct other law enforcement that arrived in the towns, his knowledge of men who married underage girls and that he looked up license plates for church security, among other things.

Tuesday's arguments were held via conference call. The case is in the federal court in Phoenix, but Holland sits on the bench in Anchorage, Alaska. Justice Department attorneys are in Washington, D.C. Colorado City and Hildale lawyers are in Arizona and Utah, respectively.

Twitter: @natecarlisle