SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Legislature has budgeted a $5.7 million payment to settle the ongoing legal battle over land in the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
In the “bill of bills” passed by the House and Senate in the final hours of the legislature, money was appropriated to pay lawyers and accountant fees that have racked up for years in the case involving the Fundamentalist LDS Church’s United Effort Plan (UEP) Trust.
The payment also has some strings attached:
- The state of Utah is released from any liability.
- The court-appointed special fiduciary waives any post-judgment interest.
If they sign off on the waiver, the state will cut a $3 million check immediately and then pay off the rest over the next year.
Lawmakers expressed reservations about paying the bill, even after a court had ordered the Utah Attorney General’s Office to pay for the eight-year-long legal fight.
“We are responsible to the taxpayers and we need to be able to tell them that it’s an appropriate expenditure of their money,” House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart, R-Provo, told FOX 13 in February.
A judge is currently considering proposals for an “exit strategy” to get the state and the courts out of the UEP mess. In 2005, Judge Denise Lindberg took control of the UEP at the request of the attorneys general for Utah and Arizona, amid allegations that FLDS leader Warren Jeffs (then a fugitive on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list) had been mismanaging it.
The UEP Trust is based on the early Mormon concept of a “united order,” where people give their property over to the church and it is doled out according to “wants and needs.” The UEP, which controls most of the land in Hildale and Colorado City, has an estimated $110 million in assets.
Since it was taken over by the courts, a judge has sought to reform it, clearing the way for private property ownership despite years of resistance from FLDS faithful still loyal to Jeffs. The UEP Trust is deep in debt, mostly because of unpaid legal bills and fees brought on by years of litigation.
The “bill of bills,” with the FLDS trust settlement, is now awaiting the governor’s signature.