Judge postpones ruling, but may favor sealed-bid sale of polygamous sect’s farm
A Utah judge suggested Wednesday she may offer a polygamous sect’s historic farm to the highest bidder — a sale hundreds of FLDS members gathered outside the Matheson Courthouse Wednesday to oppose.
At the end of a three-hour hearing, 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg said a sealed bid process would eliminate any appearance that she is siding with one faction or another. She added, the buyer could decide the best use of Berry Knoll Farm.
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The judge said she will takes some days to review her options before making a decision on the farm, which is part of the 67-year-old United Effort Plan Trust.
The trust holds virtually all land in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., home to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The UEP Trust has been under Lindberg’s control since 2005.
Salt Lake City accountant Bruce R. Wisan, who has overseen the trust for the past four years, wants to sell the farm property to solve the trust’s “liquidity” crisis. The trust has debts of about $3 million, mostly in fees owed to Wisan’s firm and that of his attorneys.
Wednesday’s hearing drew about 1,000 FLDS members to Salt Lake City. Some came from as far away as New York, Texas and Canada to signal displeasure with the court’s handling of the trust.
“We’re opposed to the sale of our church property,” said Trevor Barlow of Colorado City, Ariz. “My grandfather and great-grandfather both put land into that trust. I don’t think either one of them would be happy with what is going on today.”
The judge also heard emotional testimony from FLDS and non-FLDS alike. FLDS members described years of effort to buy and develop Berry Knoll, considered a future temple site, and other properties consecrated to the trust in a religious exercise known as the “holy united effort.”
“The Berry Knoll is part of the UEP and for us, the UEP is part and parcel of our religion,” said Memory Oler of British Columbia.
Dan Barlow, former mayor of Colorado City, said it would be “totally wrong” to sell Berry Knoll or other properties given to the FLDS church for its support.
Former FLDS members urged the judge to prevent mistreatment of and protect rights of those who no longer adhere to the faith, using the trust to benefit them, too.