SALT LAKE CITY — A judge on Wednesday outlined a plan for reforming the trust of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and appointed a six-member advisory board to temporarily assist a court-appointed accountant.
Third District Judge Denise P. Lindberg has been working an overhaul of the United Effort Plan trust for almost two months. Among the issues she sought to resolve were which of two trust documents — one from 1942 and one from 1998 — should stand as the controlling framework for a new trust and which elements of the trust need reform.
The trust was created in 1942 as a charitable mechanism for FLDS church members, who willingly turned over their property so all could share in the community’s assets.
In May, the Utah attorney general’s office asked the courts to remove the controlling trustees, including reclusive church leader Warren Jeffs, because they were not using the trust for charitable purposes and had left the assets vulnerable to liquidation through lawsuits filed against the FLDS church or its officers.
Most of the estimated 10,000 members of the FLDS church, which practices polygamy, make their homes on trust-owned land in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. Some have said that in recent years, Jeffs and other church leaders have used trust property to either punish or reward church members for their obedience.
In her 30-page ruling, Lindberg selected the 1998 version of the trust as the controlling document, and said a reformed trust should separate the religious aspects of the church from the assets of the trust. She also said the trust can’t support or benefit the illegal practice of polygamy, even though it is a tenet of the church.
Other reform plans would give church leaders nonbinding input to the trust but allow trustees to make decisions based on neutral principles.
The judge said trust beneficiaries can include former church members and others who have given time, talent or property to the trust.
Lawyers from the offices of the Utah and Arizona attorneys general and private attorneys who represent trust beneficiaries now have 30 days to provide Lindberg with specific reform suggestions to help her finalize the reformed trust.
Lindberg also followed the recommendation of court-appointed accountant Bruce Wisan to appoint an advisory board of people to guide him.
“In selecting advisory board members the court sought to establish a diverse group and considered many factors, including education, life experience, familiarity with the community, particularized skills, individual biases and rationale offered for wanting to serve,” Lindberg wrote.
Named as advisers are Margaret Cooke and Carolyn Jessop, Robert Huddleston, Rayo Spencer Johnson, John Nielsen and Don Timpson. They will serve for one year.
Cooke and Jessop are former plural wives, who fled the church; Huddleston is the recently retired president of Southern Utah University; Johnson is an elderly former church member who still lives on church property; Nielsen was forced out of the church by church leadership; and Timpson is a professor at the Mojave Community College in Colorado City, Ariz., who has lived and worked with church members for more almost 30 years.
Cooke and Jessop would be the first women ever to have input on how the trust is managed.
“It’s breaking new ground,” said Jessop, who fled a plural marriage with her eight children two years ago.
Jessop said she likes the mix of people selected by Lindberg as advisers because they represent a broad spectrum of ideas and experience.
Friends and family of Jessop who remain in the church have expressed fears about the changes in trust management, she said. What Lindberg proposes represents a huge shift in the culture of Hildale and Colorado City, she said.
“They are concerned about losing their homes,” Jessop said. “To hold this thing together in the beginning stages of this (change) will be very difficult. It’s new era for that community.”
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