Arizona court rules against Colorado City eviction

Associated Press/November 30, 2004
By Paul Davenport

Phoenix -- An Arizona court has ruled that leaders of a polygamist sect couldn't evict a couple after ousting the man from the sect.

However, the Court of Appeals said the case it decided Tuesday didn't resolve underlying legal issues involving the dispute over property in Colorado City, a polygamist community in northern Arizona.

Milton and Lenore Holm said he was excommunicated from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 2000 after she balked at allowing her 15-year-old daughter to wed a 39-year-old married man.

Church attorney Rodney Parker in Salt Lake City did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday. Church officials previously denied there was any connection between the property issue and Lenore Holm's daughter, who married the man after she turned 18.

The Court of Appeals upheld a Mohave County trial judge's ruling dismissing an eviction action filed against the Holms by the United Effort Plan Trust controlled by leaders of the FLDS.

Colorado City and neighboring Hildale, Utah, are dominated by the FLDS, a splinter offshoot of the mainstream Mormon church, which disavowed polygamy in 1890.

Milton Holm received permission to move onto the property owned by the trust and build a home in 1976, and he later argued in court proceedings that he always believed he and his family would have a right to live there. The Holms married in 1993.

The Holms said church leader Warren Jeffs reacted to Lenore Holm's refusal to allow her daughter to marry by saying that Milton Holm's priesthood had been taken away, he no longer was a church member and they had to leave their 5,000-square-foot home.

The Holms refused, and the trust sued to evict them. The trust claimed there was a landlord-tenant relationship and that it had revoked permission for the Holms to use the property.

The couple denied they were tenants, said they had a right to occupy the property and argued that allowing the trust to force them from the property would unjustly enrich the trust at their expense.

The trial judge dismissed the trust's eviction action, ruling that Milton Holm had an occupancy right and that it would unjustly enrich the trust to force the family out.

The judge ordered that Milton Holm be allowed to remain on the property for his lifetime or be paid just compensation for his investment in improvements he'd made.

The Court of Appeals upheld the judge's dismissal of the eviction action but said he was wrong to rule that the Holms' arguments were correct.

An eviction case is too narrow to resolve the underlying dispute and other proceedings would be needed to untangle the underlying legal and factual issues, Judge Susan A. Ehrlich wrote for the panel.

The latest ruling comes six years after the Utah Supreme Court ruled that it had the power to resolve legal disputes within religious entities and that the late Rulon T. Jeffs, the church's former president and Warren Jeffs' father, could not evict dissidents without fair compensation.

The Utah court's 1998 ruling came after the FLDS church sought to reclaim homes of those who defected to a rival polygamous sect. Twenty-one dissident families refused to be evicted and sued the church.

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