Phoenix • The first week of the Cooke family’s civil rights lawsuit is over. I wrote quite a bit about it over the last few days, but if that is too much to read or if you’re already feeling lost, here’s a cheat sheet with all the basics:
What is this case all about?
Utilities and religion. Basically, the Cooke family moved to Colorado City, Ariz., and couldn’t get water hooked up to their house. They claim the city wouldn’t give them water because they’re not members of The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The town is mostly populated by members of the FLDS Church.
Attorneys for Colorado City and neighboring Hildale, Utah, say the Cookes could have had water all along but wouldn’t comply with city policy. Instead, those attorneys argue, the Cookes were chosen to sue in order to let the majority landowner in the region — a trust run by the state — get around city utility policy and sell property. The city attorneys believe the people running the trust are just out to make more money.
Why does this even matter?
Because local governments can’t just discriminate against whomever they want. The Cookes are essentially saying that the local town government was working for the area’s largest church.
But we live in Utah. Isn’t this just like what goes on all over the place with the LDS Church?
Contrary to snarky comments on the Internet, this is nothing like the LDS Church’s involvement in various political issues in Utah. Though the LDS Church and its culture certainly have a major influence on Utah’s political environment, the Cookes are saying the FLDS Church was explicitly controlling the local government on the Utah-Arizona border. The lawsuit says the FLDS Church appointed and removed elected officials, rigged elections and created a high-tech surveillance system to enforce members’ loyalty.
These are contested claims — city attorneys will spend the next several weeks fighting them — but if true, they go way, way beyond anything happening elsewhere.
So what was the first week of trial like?
Pretty interesting. Though the Cookes’ argument has been clear for a while due to court documents, this week was the first time we really learned about the defense strategy: blaming the Cookes for not complying with city policy.
The most emotional moments of the trial, by far, came during Patrick Barlow’s testimony. Read more about that here.
The trial will continue for as long as seven more weeks.
So who is going to win?
That’s the million dollar question, of course, and I have no idea. Before the trial began, the Cookes’ case seemed pretty solid; they were a nice family being persecuted by a secretive religion, according to their court filings. But the city attorneys have been working to distance the towns from the religion and have portrayed whatever secretive, controlling activities may have been going on as exclusively an aspect of the FLDS Church, not local government. Obviously, the jury will decide who is right.
— Jim Dalrymple II
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