Legal web around FLDS trust growing tangled

Ex-child bride's attorneys say trust is Jeffs 'alter ego'

Desert News/June 22, 2008

The legal web surrounding the Fundamentalist LDS Church's real-estate holdings arm continues to grow, with subpoenas, filings, counterfilings and depositions under way.

Lawyers for a former child bride who testified against FLDS leader Warren Jeffs want to keep the United Effort Plan Trust on the hook for any potential damages arising from her multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit against the polygamous sect. In a motion opposing the UEP Trust's request for summary judgment, attorneys for Elissa Wall argue the UEP was intertwined with the FLDS Church and leadership.

"The Church and the Trust were always administered by the same person to achieve the same purpose: to preserve and advance the religious doctrines and goals of the (church)," said a declaration by ex-FLDS leader Winston Blackmore included in the court papers.

Making their case, Wall's attorneys included numerous depositions of FLDS members, ex-members and even Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

"Elissa Wall alleges that the trust is liable in this case because the trustees' actions in commanding her to marry were undertaken pursuant and consistent with the scope of their authority as a trustees (sic). She also alleges that the trust is liable because it is merely the alter ego of Jeffs and the FLDS Church," wrote attorney Roger Hoole.

Wall is suing the FLDS Church, Jeffs and the UEP Trust over her marriage at age 14 to her 19-year-old cousin. She was the star witness in Washington County's criminal case against Jeffs, which resulted in his conviction of rape as an accomplice.

In 2005, a judge in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court took control of the UEP Trust over allegations that Jeffs and other top FLDS officials mismanaged it. The UEP Trust controls homes, businesses and property in the FLDS enclaves of Hildale, Utah; Colorado City, Ariz.; and Bountiful, in British Columbia. The courts ordered reforms to the trust and appointed a special fiduciary to oversee it. The UEP Trust is asking a court to dismiss it from the lawsuit, arguing it is not liable for the actions of the former trustees.

Meanwhile, the trust is trying to collect on judgments and glean information about the management of the old UEP. Most recently, trust lawyers served subpoenas on the Salt Lake law firm of Snow Christensen and Martineau.

"There was a time when that firm represented the trust," said Jeffrey L. Shields, a lawyer for the UEP's court-appointed special fiduciary. "We're appointed to manage the trust, and we're essentially saying, 'We're your client now, and we want to see what you've got."'

The law firm has objected to the subpoenas.

"Our position is that our communications with the previous trustees are privileged," said Rod Parker, an attorney with Snow Christensen and Martineau who is voluntarily acting as a spokesman for the FLDS people. "As a law firm, those privileges are not ours to waive."

UEP lawyers also have served subpoenas on Texas authorities, demanding to see evidence taken from the YFZ Ranch, as well as information on the ranch's assets.

Authorities raided the ranch April 3 on a call about abuse, taking nearly 450 children into state custody. They were recently returned to their parents after a pair of courts ruled the state acted improperly in removing all of the children from the ranch. Child welfare and criminal investigations continue. Texas authorities say they continue to investigate whether the call that sparked the raid was a hoax.

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