Child bride offers to settle suit against polygamous church's land trust

KSL News 5, Utah/June 9, 2009

Salt Lake City - A former child bride who was the state's star witness in the criminal case against Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leader Warren Jeffs is offering to settle a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the polygamous sect's real estate holdings arm.

Elissa Wall sued over her forced marriage at age 14 to her 19-year-old cousin. She named the FLDS Church, its leader, Warren Jeffs, and the United Effort Plan (UEP) Trust as defendants. The proposed settlement was filed in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court last week in the ongoing litigation over the UEP Trust, which controls property in the FLDS communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

In the settlement, Wall asks for about $308,000 in compensation and a monetary judgment to be awarded in mediation or a damages-only trial. She also wants some undeveloped trust land as well as the properties that her family lives on.

"(Elissa Wall) will personally receive no further compensation, but will execute on her remaining judgment to facilitate the UEP Trust's goal of conveying the homes built on UEP Trust land to Trust Participants," her attorney, Roger Hoole, wrote in a copy of the settlement obtained by KSL NewsRadio.

Wall is apparently seeking to exert some influence on subdividing the land currently held by the trust, which was originally based upon the early-Mormon concept of a "United Order," where everything was placed in a common pot and doled out according to just wants and needs.

In 2005, the UEP Trust was taken over by the courts amid allegations that Jeffs and other FLDS leaders had mismanaged it. The judge appointed a special fiduciary to manage it and has enacted reforms, doing away with the communal property nature of the trust in favor of private property ownership.

The FLDS Church has resisted such efforts, and the trust's managers have become bogged down in debt while grappling with lawsuits filed by church members. The UEP Trust is engaged in settlement talks with the FLDS Church and the attorneys general of Utah and Arizona over a series of litigation FLDS members have filed. After years of relative silence, FLDS members sued over the trust reforms, arguing that it violates their right to freely practice their religion by preventing them from consecrating their property to the church.

Hoole noted in his proposed settlement that Jeffs and the FLDS Church defaulted on Wall's lawsuit, and asked the judge to exclude them from any settlement mediation. "Having voluntarily forfeited their control over the UEP Trust and also having defaulted in the MJ action years ago, Warren Jeffs and the FLDS Church have no legal right to object or participate in such discussions," Hoole wrote.

Attorneys for the court-appointed special fiduciary of the UEP Trust did not have any immediate response to the proposed settlement. "We're looking at it," said Jeffrey L. Shields, an attorney for fiduciary Bruce Wisan.

Wall testified against Jeffs in is criminal trial in southern Utah. Jeffs, 52, was convicted of first-degree felony rape as an accomplice for performing the marriage and sentenced to serve a pair of five-to-life sentences. He is currently in Arizona where he is facing charges related to alleged underage marriages.

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