Dismissal sought in suit against the FLDS trust

A Utah judge is being asked to dismiss a multimillion dollar lawsuit filed against a polygamous sect’s trust by the key witness in Warren S. Jeffs‘ criminal case.

Elissa Wall “knowingly” filed her lawsuit in Iron County despite lack of “a single allegation that establishes proper venue” there, states the filing by Bruce R. Wisan, overseer of the United Effort Plan Trust.

The trust also can not be held liable for criminal acts that fall outside a trustee’s duties, it states.

“She can still go after the bad guy, but the bad guy is Warren Jeffs, not the trust,” said Jeff Shields, UEP Trust attorney.

If the case is not dismissed, Wisan wants it moved to 3rd District Court in Salt Lake City, where it can be heard by Judge Denise Lindberg – who is presiding over the trust case.

Wall, whose allegations of rape led to Jeffs’ conviction last month, filed the lawsuit against him in December 2005. She used the fictitious initials “M.J.” and filed the case in Iron County to further shield her identity. Months later, Wall added the UEP Trust as a defendant.

The trust holds virtually all property in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., the home base of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Jeffs has led the sect since 2002.

Wall is seeking damages for “severe pain, emotional distress and permanent injury” because of Jeffs’ order that she spiritually marry her cousin in 2001. She was 14 at the time, her cousin 19. Wall’s lawsuit calls Jeffs’ acts “atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society.”

Roger Hoole, Wall’s attorney, did not return a telephone call from The Salt Lake Tribune Thursday.

Attorneys for Wall and the trust agreed a year ago to stay her lawsuit while Jeffs’ criminal case proceeded. Meanwhile, both sides put forth settlement offers, all of which were rejected.

Wall’s proposal calls for her to receive about $1 million in property: eight lots, some with homes, in the twin towns, 11 acres in Maxwell Canyon in Hildale for her attorneys, and another four acres there for herself.

And it requires the trust to set up a $1 million emergency assistance/education fund for girls and women with children who leave the sect.

“We rejected it as too high, too much,” Shields said.

Earlier this year, the trust gave lots and set up a $250,000 fund to settle two other lawsuits brought by plaintiffs represented by Hoole. Six young men alleged they were wrongly driven out of the community; another man alleged he was sexually abused by Jeffs about 20 years ago.

The first case made no allegations of criminal conduct. In the second, the allegation was never proved.

And both of those facts make them different from Wall’s lawsuit, Shields said.

“In [her] case, there is proof of criminal conduct,” he said. “The more outrageous the conduct, the less likely the court will say the trust should be held liable. It would be unfair to beneficiaries that they should lose their assets because a trustee breaks the law.”

If Wall has any claims to make against the trust, she can file a petition for benefits – just like other beneficiaries, Wisan states in his court filing.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday October 27, 2007.
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