The polygamous FLDS sect is asking the Utah Supreme Court to return to church control a trust that governs most property in two towns at the Utah-Arizona state line.
Church members, who compare the situation to that of 19th century Mormon ancestors, argue a district court judge violated their constitutional rights by "unlawfully" eliminating the United Effort Plan Trust's religious purpose and replacing it with a secular agenda hostile to the faith. They ask the court to stop the sale of a trust farm, remove the fiduciary now managing the trust and overturn the court's revisions to the trust.
The 58-page petition was filed Tuesday on behalf of the 10,000 members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the majority class of the trust's beneficiaries.
"The goal is to get control of the trust back and end what we regard as an unlawful occupation of the trust," said Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney who represents the sect.
Parker said the appeal comes after a failed year-long effort to resolve disputes over the trust, which now risks losing holdings through property sales and delinquent tax forfeitures. It also comes after sect members were denied standing to intervene in the court proceedings, the petition states.
The trust, created in 1942 and valued at $110 million four years ago, holds virtually all property in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., and Bountiful, British Columbia.
Third District Judge Denise Lindberg oversees the UEP Trust, which is managed by fiduciary Bruce R. Wisan. The Utah Attorney General's Office pushed for the court takeover in 2005 to protect its assets alleged mismanagement and lawsuits the FLDS failed to defend.
Neither Jeff Shields, an attorney for Wisan, nor Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff were available for comment.
Lindberg, with help from attorneys who had sued the trust, removed the trust's religious underpinnings and governance structure and set up a "wholly secular mirror image," the petition states, that became the "de facto overlord of an entire religious community."
Once the trust's religious purpose was gone, the FLDS argue, the trust should have been terminated and its holdings distributed to the remainder beneficiary -- the church's corporate entity.
But Lindberg said the trust could not default to the church because of its illegal practices, specifically polygamy. She also noted in the 2005 decision, however, that the trust "also promotes practices that are not contrary to law or against public policy."
The FLDS maintain that other practice was the trust's primary purpose: Creation of a community based on a "Holy United Order."
The united order is laid out in the Doctrine and Covenants, a scripture used by fundamentalist Mormons as well as the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which eschews the breakaway sects and plural marriage. The tenet calls for members to consecrate property, services, time and talents to church to build up a communal holy kingdom.
Lindberg said the reformed trust was to operate on "neutral non-religious principles" but approved plans that break up the trust, discriminate against FLDS members and inhibit their ability to practice their religious belief in a united order, the petition states.
The court also approved sale of trust properties with "special economic, social, historical and spiritual significance" to the FLDS community and broadened its beneficiaries to include those who had left or been cut from the faith.
"For a state court to embrace and facilitate such a goal is not only unconstitutional, it is dangerous, inviting as it does the disgruntled from every sect to petition the courts for relief from claimed wrongs in church administration and to insert the state as arbiter of religious disputes," the filing states.
Court takeover Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff filed a petition in 3rd District Court in May 2005 arguing that court oversight of the trust was needed to safeguard its assets from mismanagement and lawsuits.
Trust document Third District Judge Denise Lindberg issued a findin in December 2005 that the trust could be lawfully reformed along "neutral, non-religious principles." She issued the reformed trust document in October 2006.
Property sales Last November, FLDS members objected to the sale of trust lands with historic, economic and spiritual significance. That led to negotiations aimed at settling disputes over the trust, but Lindberg rejected the settlement proposals in July and a month later order sale of a farm to proceed.
-- Brooke Adams