Couple Fight Eviction by Religious Group

The Salt Lake Tribune / August 23, 2000

Moccasin, Ariz. -- A woman who would not give permission for her 16-year-old daughter to marry a 39-year-old polygamist will learn today whether religious leaders can evict her family from the home they have lived in for 24 years.

"If our home is taken, I have 10 children ages 12 and under, and I don't know what we will do," Lenore Holm said at a hearing in Moccasin Precinct Justice Court on Tuesday. "I have to think of them every minute of every day."

Holm and her husband, Milton, were served an eviction notice on June 21, within weeks of the couple's decision to oppose the marriage. They refused to leave and were summoned to precinct court - - a double-wide trailer on the outskirts of the Kaibab Indian Reservation-- along with Daunt Hammon and Lucas Hammon, who also were told to vacate a home in Colorado City, Ariz., and also refused.

The plaintiff in both cases is the United Effort Plan, the organization that owns virtually all the property in the twin polygamist communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., on the Utah-Arizona border. The UEP is the financial arm of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Tenants-at-Will: UEP attorney Rodney Parker said Tuesday that the Hammons and Holms are "tenants-at-will" on the property, thus giving the UEP the right to evict them without cause.

But the Holms and the Hammons say they could not be tenants-at- will because there was never a formal rental agreement between them and a landlord. Instead, both said, they had agreements that they could build homes and live on the land, which still would belong to the UEP.

Neither the Hammons nor the Holms were represented by attorneys. Daunt Hammon said he did not have time to retain one and that his motion for a continuance of the proceeding was rejected; Lenore and Milton Holm said they could not afford an attorney.

While all four were called to court on a complaint alleging "forcible entry and detainer of property," their cases are different. Milton and Lenore Holm say they do not practice polygamy, but were faithful members of the FLDS Church until they disagreed with church leaders who wanted Lenore's daughter to marry.

"All I asked is that they wait until she turns 18. I've never forgiven my mother for letting me get married young. I was 17 and it ruined my life," Lenore Holm said.

Her daughter is from her earlier marriage to a polygamist man who eventually left the faith and left her and her children with nothing, she said. She married Milton Holm in 1996 after his wife died of cancer.

Milton Holm purportedly has been barred from priesthood meetings, a serious reprimand since the sect's faithful male members are allowed to miss only three meetings before being disfellowshipped, Lenore Holm said. Wake-Up Call: Daunt Hammon said his nephew, Lucas Hammon, is living in his Colorado City home as his guest, though he still pays the residence's property taxes and utility bills.

"I'm not in disagreement with their church," Hammon said. "I just want to wake up the people to the wrongs being committed by the people in charge." Hammon declined to say whether he is a polygamist, saying he wants to keep his family out of the court case. He moved to a new house nearby, he said, because the United Effort Plan would not allow him to enlarge his home and he and his family were running out of room.

Truman Barlow, Lenore Holm's uncle, is a trustee of the UEP and was a witness in both cases. He said Hammon and the Holms were asked to vacate their homes because they were not "in harmony" with the teachings of the FLDS Church.

"What does 'harmony' mean?" Lenore Holm asked Barlow. "Those not in harmony with the leaders of the trust can be asked to leave," Barlow replied. "Are you aware of why we were asked to leave the church?" Lenore Holm asked. "I would have to speculate," Barlow said. "But a person is out of harmony when they contest the leaders of the trust, argue or rebel."

Neither Barlow nor Parker offered specific reasons for the Holms' eviction, and when Lenore Holm mentioned her daughter, Parker suggested it had no bearing on the case being heard.

Milton Holm disagreed, testifying that he was "being unjustly removed from the church for not forcing my wife's daughter to marry." Parker countered that Holm was offered a 60-day extension on his eviction if he agreed to leave. "You've also had offers of help from your brothers, haven't you?" he added.

Holm confirmed his brothers, who attended the hearing, had offered him a moving van and one month's rent. Court Challenge: It was not the first time residents of the two cities along the Utah-Arizona border founded by polygamists have clashed with religious leaders in court.

In 1987, more than 20 residents filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the tenants-at-will policy. The case was dismissed in federal court, refiled in state district court and decided by the Utah Supreme Court in September 1998.

The high court ruled the United Effort Plan was indeed a private trust rather than a charitable trust as church leaders had claimed. Therefore, the justices found, taking members' homes would be unjust enrichment. Cyril Bradshaw, one of the original plaintiffs in the 1987 case, was in court Tuesday to observe.

"I'll live there forever," he said. "I'm probably the biggest thorn in their side."

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