Judge interviews hopefuls for UEP trustee positions

Deseret Morning News/August 1, 2007

St. George — Eight individuals vying for positions on the advisory board of the United Effort Plan Trust were prodded with personal questions during a hearing held in 5th District Court Friday.

Third District Judge Denise Lindberg presided over the interviews, which focused on each applicant's background, motivation for the volunteer post and any connections to polygamous communities in Utah, Arizona, Canada or elsewhere.

The board advises Bruce Wisan, the court-appointed special fiduciary who has managed the assets of the communal trust on the Utah/Arizona border since 2005. Much of the trust's estimated $100 million in assets is tied to property, homes and buildings in Hildale, Washington County, and Colorado City in Mohave County, Ariz.

Most residents of the twin cities belong to the Fundamentalist FLDS Church, which is under the control of jailed polygamous leader Warren Jeffs. Many of those who no longer belong to the FLDS faith were either kicked out of the church or left of their own accord in recent years.

Intertwined family trees that stem from plural family backgrounds are common denominators for many residents, even if they don't belong to the same religion anymore, said several of the applicants.

"We're all related in this town," said Seth Cooke, a general contractor who now lives in Cane Beds, Ariz., a community near the polygamous towns. "One of the main reasons why I want to be on the board is that some of my family members are in the First Ward (the FLDS Church). You can't walk away from someone you love. The biggest satisfaction I could have is to give people the deeds to their homes and remove the fear of being kicked out."

Under Jeffs' rule, dozens of men were told to leave their families and homes behind to "repent from afar." Most of the men did as they were told. Under the original UEP trust, worthy FLDS men were assigned lots on which to build homes and raise families.

Members also donated labor and materials toward community projects and helped neighbors build their homes. Property deeds were entrusted to the UEP, and members could be evicted or moved from home to home by the former trustees.

Straightening out which person should be able to lay claim to a piece of property or determine how to fairly divide contested properties is a monumental task, said Wisan.

"Whatever you thought this trust is, it's a quagmire and we are trying to clean it up the best we can as quickly as we can," Wisan told the applicants, adding he wants to wind up his role in the trust by the end of the year and then turn it over to the advisory board or a full board of trustees. "Jeff (Shields, UEP attorney) and I are trying to get out of Dodge, if you will."

Lindberg said she would accept recommendations and comments on the prospective board members through Aug. 27. She is expected to file her decision on which members to appoint to the board by the end of September.

"You are signing up for tough decisions with no clear answers and no clear guidelines for getting from here to there, for roadblocks that get thrown up, and probably fighting," the judge said. "It is a frustrating experience."

Among those interviewed were ex-FLDS members Cooke; Katie Cox, who owns a nursery in Hildale; Andrew Chatwin, a general contractor who has filed a civil lawsuit against a local restaurant and the town's police department; Charlie Johnson, a drywall contractor who was exiled, but recently moved back to the community; Deloy Bateman, a science teacher at Colorado City High School; and Diane Dockstader, a third-grade teacher at the Colorado City Elementary School.

Also interviewed were Hazel Zitting, a librarian at the elementary school who belongs to the Centennial Park group; and Elaine Tyler, director of the Hope Organization in St. George, which works with people leaving polygamy.

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