September 17, 2008
4 More Kids Dropped From FLDS Case
By Ben Winslow Deseret News
More children are being dropped from the nation's biggest custody case, which involves the Fundamentalist LDS Church.
Approximately 439 children were taken from the YFZ Ranch and then subsequently returned to their parents when a pair of Texas courts ruled the state acted improperly in removing all of the children, saying there was no imminent danger of abuse. Only one child, a 14- year-old girl, has been returned to foster care after a judge ruled her mother could not protect her from abuse. Child welfare authorities allege the girl was married at age 12 to FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.
The decision to nonsuit ends court oversight and requirements that families must remain in Texas, attend parenting classes or make themselves available to CPS investigators. However, CPS could still retain some involvement as child welfare investigations continue.
Meanwhile in Utah, lawyers for a group of ex-FLDS members said they do not object to FLDS member and spokesman Willie Jessop serving on an advisory board for the court-controlled UEP Trust -- provided he is thoroughly vetted before being appointed.
The UEP Trust, which is the real-estate holdings arm of the FLDS Church, has an opening on its advisory board for an FLDS representative. In a recent letter to the judge overseeing the trust, Jessop accepted an invitation and recommended another member join him.
"The person fulfilling this position is to provide non-binding input regarding the just wants and needs of Trust Participants in light of the religious principles of the FLDS Church," attorney Greg Hoole wrote in papers filed in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court last week. "No person can be considered for this position until they are first designated in writing by the FLDS Church to fulfill this position."
Board members have undergone depositions in the past. Hoole -- whose clients include Elissa Wall, the star witness in Utah's criminal case against Jeffs -- has sought to depose FLDS members. He also has filed several lawsuits against the FLDS Church and the UEP on their behalf.
The UEP was taken over in 2005 amid allegations that Jeffs and other FLDS leaders mismanaged it. A judge appointed an accountant, Bruce Wisan, to oversee it. The trust is undergoing court-ordered reforms, doing away with the concept of a "united order" in favor of private property ownership.
After years of refusing to cooperate with Wisan, FLDS members have recently filed court challenges, seeking to halt his proposal to sell property in the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
"Without assigning blame to either side, a significant amount of distrust exists between the special fiduciary and the majority of UEP Trust participants," Hoole wrote in his response to the controversy.
In his court filings, Hoole appears to support having the fiduciary clear property transactions through the courts, with the opportunity for FLDS members to comment on them in court. He also proposed minutes of advisory board meetings be posted on the Internet, town hall meetings and transitioning authority away from the UEP's court-appointed fiduciary to a new board of trustees.
"No doubt the board of trustees would face many of the same challenges the Special Fiduciary has faced," he wrote. "However, recent events have demonstrated that absent a change in administration the Trust may never resolve the communication and trust issues that have developed."
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