A judge has set a 90-day deadline for the state of Utah to pay more than $5.5 million in debts associated with a Warren Jeffs-led polygamous sect’s communal property trust.
A Utah Attorney General’s Office spokesman said officials are "disappointed" and "reviewing our options" for appealing the decision, which would require the office to pay four years of bills owed to the accountant appointed to run the trust after it was taken over by the state.
Third District Judge Denise Lindberg wrote in a ruling issued Monday that the taxpayer money would eventually be repaid by the trust.
"... justice and equity weigh heavily in favor of having the state advance the funds necessary to pay all of the reasonable expenses that have been incurred on behalf of the trust," Lindberg wrote.
The approximately $114 million trust holds nearly all the land and property in the combined border community of Colorado City, Ariz. and Hildale, Utah, which is still populated by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Lindberg largely refused Attorney General’s Office arguments challenging expenses, including a legal defense for trust employees accused of trespassing, payments to a PR consultant and an increase in billing rates. The total also includes bills for engineering and platting a plan to subdivide the trust.
Lindberg agreed with a fraction of the proposed reductions, shaving $65,000 from the $5.6 million tab.
She set aside, though, a Utah motion that would require a portion of the expenses to be paid by Arizona, where officials backed the takeover and where more than half of trust property is located. Arizona opposes the idea. Lindberg said there’s still time to legally hash out that issue, but "it’s simply not fair" to further delay the payments.
Lindberg also denied a request to reduce the tab by 25 percent due to a "lack of results," instead expressing support for accountant Bruce Wisan.
"[Wisan] has worked diligently and in good faith to fulfill his responsibilities and to achieve beneficial results for the trust," Lindberg wrote. "Instead, the difficulties in this case have arisen largely from ... the concentrated efforts of the FLDS community ... to frustrate [Wisan’s] administration of their trust, their refusals to accept and acknowledge the court’s authority ... and to inundate the trust with needless litigation."
It wasn’t clear Tuesday how the Utah Attorney General’s Office might pay the money. The money may have to be appropriated by the Utah Legislature.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office initiated the take over of the trust in 2005 amid allegations of mismanagement by Jeffs and other FLDS trustees.
The trust first became embroiled in litigation in 2008 as the FLDS sued to prevent a land sale to pay administration expenses. Wisan remains blocked from selling any assets following an early 2011 federal ruling that the takeover was illegal. An appeals court halted the decision to hand back control of the trust to the FLDS, but hasn’t yet made a final decision. A hearing is scheduled for March 20.
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