SALT LAKE CITY — Five members of a polygamous church, including two bishops, want a say in how a court-appointed land trust sells a piece of farmland once set aside as a temple site.
Attorneys for the Fundamentalist LDS Church argued before the Utah Supreme Court on Tuesday that a lower court judge violated the constitutional rights Lyle Jeffs and James Oler by keeping them out of a United Effort Plan Trust legal dispute. They contend the trust was formed as a charitable, religious entity that requires input from church leaders.
“This is a threat to their way of life,” FLDS attorney Stephen Clark told the justices. “They’re determined to do what they can to protect that way of life.”
FLDS argue for more representation in trust case
“It’ll be chaos if the interveners are allowed to come in,” said Jeff Shields, who represents trust fiduciary Bruce Wisan.
The state in 2005 took over the trust, which controls virtually all the property in the primarily FLDS towns of Hildale and Colorado City, located on the Utah-Arizona border, and in Bountiful, British Columbia, after allegations of mismanagement.
The FLDS church initially did not participate in the UEP case, but in 2008 stepped up to protest the sale of Berry Knoll Farm, calling it the community’s bread basket and a future temple site. The original motion to intervene was filed then by three men who were using the land. Added later were Short Creek Bishop Lyle Jeffs, brother of FLDS prophet Warren S. Jeffs, and James Oler, bishop in the sect’s Canadian settlement.
No acting member of the sect has been a party to the proceedings. But on Nov. 16, 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg allowed FLDS President Wendell Nielsen to intervene in future trust proceedings.
The state, which is also charged with watching out for the good of the church members, says Nielsen’s voice is enough and that additional sect members would further complicate an already tangled case.
FLDS bishops take appeal to Utah Supreme Court
Jeffs, the brother of jailed FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs, is the bishop for the twin border towns and Oler heads the faith’s Bountiful branch.
As bishops, the two men are expected to provide for the spiritual and physical needs of church members.
The Utah courts took control of the trust in 2005 amid allegations of mismanagement. Lindberg appointed a Salt Lake City accountant to manage the trust that year and has since approved reforms to convert the trust into a secular entity and expand the beneficiary class to include former FLDS members.
The changes have sparked a legal battle for control of the more than $110 million in property holdings that has dragged on for years.
Note: the Mormon-owned Deseret News consistently refers to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) as the ‘Fundamentalist LDS Church.’ This is part of an effort by the LDS Church to distantiate itsef from the FLDS, which theologically is a cult of Mormonism (while Mormonism is theologically a cult of Christianity).
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