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Utah Supreme Court to hear child-bride lawsuit

Published May 28, 2014 1:17 pm

Polygamy • Case could decide if FLDS trust is liable for forced marriage.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Supreme Court has agreed to hear whether a polygamous trust should be held liable for what happened when a 14-year-old girl was forced to marry.

The court agreed Tuesday to hear the case, called MJ v. Jeffs. Arguments have not been scheduled.

"MJ" is Elissa Wall, who is suing the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, its imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs, and the United Effort Plan.

The UEP is the state-run trust that owns land and property in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. The trust is also the only defendant fighting Wall's lawsuit and her best chance at obtaining assets.

Lawyers for the UEP have argued it should not be held liable for what Jeffs did when he ran the trust, including forcing the then-14-year-old Wall to marry her then-21-year-old cousin in 2001.

Jeffs "may be liable for it," UEP attorney Jeff Shields said Wednesday, "but he cannot expose the trust for that."

But Wall's attorneys want the UEP to remain a defendant. Earlier this year, 3rd District Court Judge Keith Kelly agreed and refused to dismiss the UEP.

The Utah Supreme Court order sets the stage for more arguments about whether the UEP should remain in the lawsuit. Wall is seeking up to $40 million in damages from the trust.

The UEP's fiduciary has warned any judgment against it could put people in Hildale and Colorado City at risk of losing their homes.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit is proceeding in the trial court. Kelly on Friday denied a new motion to dismiss the UEP, but postponed a trial until January. The civil trial had been scheduled for August.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle