The year 1942 was a big one for the people of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
That year, residents created a legal framework to manage property they donated to their community. That framework became a trust called the United Effort Plan. Anyone who donated property to the trust became a beneficiary.
Membership in a church was not a condition to remain a beneficiary until years later. The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, whose followers comprise most inhabitants of Hildale and Colorado City, was not even incorporated in 1942.
And so that’s why 33 people have signed onto a lawsuit seeking to return the United Effort Plan to its 1942 provisions. The lawsuit was filed Sept. 19 in state court in St. George, according to court records, but sat unnoticed until United Effort Plan lawyers discovered it late last month.
No hearing has been scheduled in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit asks that amendments to the 1942 incorporation be declared void. That would return control of the trust to the beneficiaries.
Specifically, the plaintiffs want a judge to strike down changes made to the trust in 1998 that effectively gave control of the United Effort Plan to Warren Jeffs and the FLDS. Membership in the FLDS became a condition of being a UEP beneficiary. Jeffs began evicting men from the church and ordering them out of Hildale and Colorado City.
"Petitioners would not have consecrated property to the 1942 Trust had they known or believed that a single individual would have authority to remove them from their homes or otherwise deprive them of their members in that 1942 Trust," the plaintiffs say in their lawsuit.
The lawsuit goes on to describe the religious convictions of the original beneficiaries not as belonging to a church but "only that they all considered themselves ‘Latter-Day Saints’ and of an order of Priesthood dedicated to living the teachings of Joseph Smith and an effort of common unity."
The lawsuit is the latest volley in the almost-decade-old dispute over management of the United Effort Plan. The state of Utah seized control of the trust in 2005 out of concerns that Jeffs was mismanaging the trust and putting people’s homes at risk. Third District Court Judge Denise Lindberg has maintained oversight of the United Effort Plan and appointed accountant Bruce Wisan as the fiduciary in charge of it.
The idea of the United Effort Plan was for the people of Hildale and Colorado City to live in a communal fashion for mutual benefit. It has never sat well with many residents that their homes and property are controlled by the state. Many residents, even those who no longer follow Jeffs, have refused even to pay the $100-a-month fee charged to live in United Effort Plan homes.
The 33 plaintiffs include people who were once in the upper echelon of the FLDS but who no longer follow Jeffs. Plaintiffs include William E. Jessop, Guy Timpson, Jarold Williams and Lorin Holm.
Attorneys for the United Effort Plan have filed a motion asking the case be placed under the umbrella of the existing probate case in Lindberg’s court in Salt Lake City. They also contend there’s no merit in the lawsuit — that the petition ignores changes Lindberg approved to the trust in 2006 and the courts have upheld the state oversight of the United Effort Plan.
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