Utah Supreme Court to decide FLDS land battle

The Utah Supreme Court on Tuesday wrestled with the issue of who has the final say over state law as part of a long-running battle for control of a communal land trust tied to Warren Jeffs’ polygamous church, the Associated Press reports:

The question comes on the heels of a February federal court ruling, which found that the state of Utah violated the religious rights of members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints when it took over the church’s land trust in 2005.

The ruling from U.S. District Judge Dee Benson could undo some six years of decisions by a state judge.

Attorneys for the FLDS believe the ruling should stand, while other parties dispute the right of a federal judge to meddle with a state judge’s decision and to essentially override state law.

FOX 13 explains:

A federal judge recently ruled the state courts’ takeover of the United Effort Plan Trust was unconstitutional and violated FLDS members’ religious freedom rights. He ordered control of the UEP Trust be returned to the FLDS Church. […]

However, a judge in Salt Lake City’s 3rd District Court issued a ruling on Monday insisting that she remained in charge of the UEP Trust. She also directed the man she appointed to oversee the UEP, court-appointed special fiduciary Bruce Wisan, to resist the federal judge’s ruling.

“The dispute that’s brewing between these two sovereigns, between these two court systems, has embedded within it a state law question of some significance, of some magnitude,” Utah Supreme Court Justice Tom Lee said.

The UEP Trust controls most of the land in Hildale, Utah; Colorado City, Ariz.; and Bountiful, British Columbia in Canada. It was taken over by the state courts in 2005 over allegations that Warren Jeffs and other FLDS leaders mismanaged it, says FOX 13.

According to the Associated Press the Trust is valued at more than $114 million.

AP says:

Under state control, the trust was stripped of its religious tenets and its class of beneficiaries was opened to former church members.

Last year, the Utah Supreme Court dismissed an FLDS challenge to state intervention in the trust, saying the church had waited too long to object to the state’s action, but the ruling did not address the constitutional rights of FLDS members.

The Utah Supreme Court will not issue an immediate ruling. The Utah and Arizona attorneys general have filed an appeal of the federal judge’s decision to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday April 13, 2011.
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