Utah Seeks Settlement With Polygamous Sect

The New York Times/June 16, 2009

The Utah attorney general's office has proposed a settlement to end a four-year dispute over $100 million worth of land in Utah, Arizona and Canada once held by a polygamous sect and its leader, Warren S. Jeffs.

Under the settlement proposal, filed in a state district court in Salt Lake City on Monday, most of the estimated 1,000 acres would be returned by the state to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or F.L.D.S.

Most of the land sits in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., small twin communities settled by the sect in the 1920s. A smaller parcel lies in Bountiful, British Columbia.

The F.L.D.S. broke away from the mainstream Mormon Church after it rejected polygamy in 1890. The sect views Hildale and Colorado City as among the few places where it can practice its beliefs.

Through its trust, the F.L.D.S. controlled the land there and in Bountiful until 2005, when the trust was seized by the Utah courts on grounds of mismanagement. The judicial decision ordering the seizure noted that rather than defend the trust against two lawsuits seeking damages for alleged sexual abuse by Mr. Jeffs and his wrongful ouster of some young men from the sect, the trustees had simply declined to administer it.

A court-appointed fiduciary, Bruce R. Wisan, has managed the trust ever since, and the F.L.D.S. has been fighting to regain control of it. Mr. Jeffs, meanwhile, is imprisoned on a 2007 conviction for rape as an accomplice, in a case involving the marriage of an under-age girl.

Jerrold S. Jensen, an assistant Utah attorney general, said Tuesday that the state felt it was appropriate to return control of the trust because the sect's current leaders had agreed to take responsibility for it and the residents of the three communities.

But Mr. Wisan opposes the settlement, in part, he says, because it does not offer enough land and cemetery plots to the 1,200 or so residents who are not F.L.D.S. members. "I don't think it's fair and reasonable," Mr. Wisan said, adding that he intended to file an objection with the court.

The Arizona attorney general also opposes the settlement.

Rod Parker, a lawyer for the sect, said its leaders concurred with much of the terms. "Conceptually there is an agreement," Mr. Parker said, "but there are still details to be worked out."

Among those details is whether Mr. Wisan would remain the fiduciary for a transitional period. In its own court filings, the sect has accused him of bias against its members.

All sides have until June 30 to submit to the court their responses to Utah's proposal.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.