SALT LAKE CITY A Utah judge set a 45-day deadline for attorneys to propose a process to resolve competing property claims in twin polygamous communities on the Utah-Arizona border.
The Thursday decision by 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg comes in the wake of escalating disputes about United Effort Plan Trust land and homes in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
The communal property trust was formed by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Members consider sharing its assets a religious principle and see state intervention in the trust as a violation of their religious rights.
The court took control of the trust in 2005 amid allegations of mismanagement by church leaders.
Changes in the trusts administration since then have allowed for former church members to use trust assets and have led to problems between neighbors.
Recent disputes about the use of homes, water rights, cattle grazing and farming have led to threats of violence.
Lindberg said Thursday she believes the problems stem from the refusal of FLDS members to follow court orders and work with Bruce Wisan, the Salt Lake City accountant she appointed to manage the trust.
Lindberg said Wisans decisions are equivalent to court orders and that those who follow the rules residents, for example, who have signed occupancy agreements to live in trust homes hold superior rights over those who dont. The FLDS largely have refused to sign those agreements.
The Arizona attorney generals office contends that the Colorado City Town Marshals Office also has failed to enforce court orders and has been advised by a city to treat the disagreements as civil disputes.
They dont believe you have issues and order that is clear enough, Assistant Arizona Attorney General Bill Richards said during a telephone hearing Thursday.
FLDS attorney Rod Parker, however, said some FLDS members have claims to trust assets that predate Wisans management, and there are privately held assets in the twin towns that are not held by the trust.
Lindberg rejected that notion and said she supports Wisans administration of the trust.
Lindberg expressed concern over the escalating problems in the communities, but said she would have to think through how to resolve conflicting claims over trust assets given that an earlier ruling limits who has legal standing in the larger dispute over control of the trust.
Lindberg asked the attorneys on all sides to submit their own proposals for resolving property claims or challenges to UEP ownership of some assets within 45 days.
Jeff Shields, an attorney who represents Wisan, said they welcome a process to adjudicate the disputes. Shields said the lack of cooperation by the FLDS has left some questions about the trusts total assets and fueled some of the problems.