Judge again rules state should pay $5M in polygamous trust costs

The Salt Lake Tribune/December 5, 2011

A judge has rebuffed the Utah attorney general and affirmed a ruling ordering the state to pay more than $5 million to the court-appointed administrator of a polygamous sect's property trust to cover outstanding debt.

In a decision made public Monday, 3rd District Court Judge Denise Lindberg denied an Attorney General's Office motion to reconsider her Aug. 1 decision that the state should pay the expenses that have racked up since 2008, the last year the trust administrator, contractors or attorneys were fully paid.

"... there is no legitimate reason for the court to re-examine its prior judgment," Lindberg wrote in her ruling, noting that the court had placed a lien on trust property requiring the United Effort Plan Trust to eventually repay whatever money the state kicks in.

Attorney General Mark Shurtleff had argued that taxpayers should not be responsible, even temporarily, because the state acted in good faith in taking over the trust in 2005 amid allegations of mismanagement by trustees of the Warren Jeffs-led sect.

Shurtleff's office is exploring options to appeal the ruling to a higher court, said Assistant Attorney General Joni Jones. If the order is confirmed, it's not yet clear how the money would be paid, she said.

"I don't think we have an extra $5 million floating around in the Attorney General's budget," Jones said.

Trust administrator Bruce Wisan says ongoing litigation and a lack of sufficient income threaten to overwhelm the trust administration without a cash infusion.

The trust, worth about $110 million, holds nearly all the land, homes and businesses in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints home base of Colorado City, Ariz. and Hildale, Utah.

Though FLDS members continued to live in their trust homes, they never fully participated following the state takeover of the trust and in 2008 began fighting the sale of land they considered sacred in court. The sect scored a legal victory early this year when U.S. District Judge Dee Benson ruled the takeover illegal and ordered the trust be returned, but Lindberg stepped in to halt the handover. All trust activity is now on hold as a federal appeals court weighs an appeal of Benson's decision.

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