The Utah Supreme Court will release a decision tomorrow that will almost certainly decide the fate of the polygamous sect property trust once controlled by Warren Jeffs.
This is kind of a big deal.
The state took over the trust in 2005 as Jeffs and the other Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints trustees refused to respond to a series of lawsuits (including one from the Lost Boys) filed against it. The trust holds almost all the lands, homes and property in the twin towns of Colorado City, and Hildale, Utah. Starting in 2008, the sect waged a fierce legal war to get the trust back, and last year the effort bore fruit: A federal judge ruled the takeover was unconstitutional.
The state appealed. Now it’s before the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
So why is the state supreme court making a pivotal decision? Because when U.S. District Judge Dee Benson made his ruling, the Utah Supreme Court had already dismissed the FLDS claims once before, in the summer of 2010. They ruled the sect waited too long (three years) to make their case — but didn’t specifically rule on whether the takeover was legal.
The state says Benson’s ruling amounted to something like double jeopardy: The Utah Supreme Court’s dismissal should have barred anyone else from mucking around in the case. But Benson (obviously) disagreed, saying that because the state high court didn’t make a ruling on the FLDS claims, he could.
There’s not actually any case law on that specific question in Utah, so the 10th Circuit sent it back to the state’s highest court. In a way, that means they’re reconsidering their own decision.
One of a few things could happen tomorrow:
• The Utah Supreme Court decides the “waited too long” dismissal was preclusive. The final ruling is still in the hands of the 10th Circuit, but it will likely mean the trust stays with the state.
• They rule the dismissal did not prevent another court from looking at it. The case still goes back to the 10th Circuit, but would make it much more likely for the trust to go back to the FLDS. This decision would be something of a bombshell — and maybe a bit confusing, what with all the upheaval in the FLDS leadership over the last couple of years.
• Something in the middle? Anything’s possible.