Feb 22, 2016

As trial nears end, critics of polygamous towns wonder whether verdict will matter

Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
The Salt Lake Tribune
February 22, 2016
Polygamy » Hildale and Colorado City can fight changes no matter what the jury decides.

Last month, as a jury in Phoenix began hearing testimony in a six-week trial asking whether towns on the Utah-Arizona line favored members of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a judge in Salt Lake City listened to witnesses who said the church required them to pick pecans as children.

In 2007, a judge permanently barred Paragon Contractors Corp, a company owned by high-ranking officials in the FLDS, from employing children in ways that violate labor laws. Yet, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, that is exactly what Paragon did during pecan harvests near Hurricane that began perhaps a year after the injunction.

The defiance allegedly exhibited in the pecan case has some who watch the FLDS wondering how much can be accomplished in the civil rights trial against the towns.

Without a decisive verdict from the jury followed by strong rulings from the judge and perhaps years of oversight, the century-old concerns that Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, discriminate against anyone who isn't loyal to FLDS leaders seem likely to continue.

"Until the towns are not run by the church and until the police officers are not controlled by the church, it's going to continue to be a major problem," said Roger Hoole, an attorney who has represented dozens of people who have fled the FLDS.

Hoole is among those who are hoping the Phoenix trial results in U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland disbanding the towns' police force and appointing a receiver to make decisions about finances and hiring until the municipal governments demonstrate discrimination has abated. The U.S. Department of Justice hasn't specified if those are things it will seek.

First, the Justice Department has to persuade a jury that Hildale and Colorado City, collectively known as Short Creek, discriminate in housing and policing. The towns deny there is discrimination and contend the federal government is pursuing a religion it doesn't like. Last week, lawyers for the towns called witnesses, including Colorado City's town manager and one of the towns' peace officers, who said FLDS leaders don't interfere in municipal affairs.

The towns are expected to rest their case Tuesday. The jury is expected to begin deliberating later this week.

If jurors find the towns have engaged in a pattern of discrimination, a new legal battle over making changes will begin. Holland is likely to take weeks to rule on motions from each side.

After a federal judge in Salt Lake City barred Paragon from the unlawful use of child labor in 2007, there was no active monitoring. The Labor Department took another look at Paragon after CNN aired video of a 2012 pecan harvest. A judge is now deciding whether Paragon violated the 2007 order and should pay back wages to the children; the Labor Department said last week that no one has paid 2014 fines totaling $1.9 million against Paragon, the church and church officials.

If Short Creek faces specific orders after the discrimination case, giving a receiver authority will help ensure the towns comply, said Mohave County, Arizona, Sheriff Jim McCabe, whose deputies patrol Colorado City.

"For so many years, [the towns] thought they could do things however they wanted to," McCabe said.

McCabe acknowledged that no judge can change the hearts and minds of the FLDS, but an adverse ruling against the towns could be leverage for change.

He doesn't see Short Creek becoming a conventional American community. He just wants it to be a place where people can live their lives without having to follow a church's rules.

"You've got a lot of people living there now that are up for a little bit of a change, I hope," McCabe said.

Courts have previously appointed administrators in Short Creek. In 2005, the state of Utah seized the United Effort Plan, a trust holding most of the land and homes in the towns. A Salt Lake City judge appointed fiduciary Bruce Wisan to manage the trust, and he encountered resistance to almost everything he did.

Residents refused to sign agreements to live in the trust's houses or pay $100 a month. The town governments went to court to stop plans to subdivide property. While Hildale was subdivided after a Utah Supreme Court decision in Wisan's favor, Colorado City remains in litigation.

Another receiver's experience was better, recalls former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard. In 2005, his office was concerned that the Colorado City Unified School District was mismanaged and money was going to the FLDS church. He and the district agreed to put the district in receivership, replace the administration and sell superfluous assets, including an airplane, to improve its finances.

Goddard, who is now in private practice, says that success shows a receiver can work in Short Creek.

"I am certainly not naive enough to think that will make an overnight change in behavior that has gone on for 100 years or more," Goddard said last week, "but I think it's important that happens."

Flora Jessop, who fled the FLDS as a teenager and helps women who leave the sect, attended one day of testimony early in the Phoenix trial. Jessop, 46, said she is waiting to hear the Justice Department's end game.

Does it just want a victory in the courts? Whatever the judge and jury decide, will the department continue pursuing the towns to ensure change?

"There's nothing new that's come out of this [trial] that we haven't been talking about for years and years and years,"


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