13 Dec 2008

Judge keeps former teen bride's lawsuit alive

The Salt Lake Tribune - December 12, 2008

by Brooke Adams

A former teenage bride may proceed with her lawsuit targeting a polygamous sect's property trust, a Utah judge has ruled.

Third District Judge Sandra N. Peuler refused to throw out Elissa Wall's case against the United Effort Plan Trust, allowing her to pursue emotional distress and outrage claims based on her marriage at age 14 to a 19-year-old cousin.

"It means the case goes to trial," said attorney Greg Hoole, who with his brother Roger Hoole represents Wall.

Peuler also said Wall's attorneys may amend her complaint for the third time because the additions raise "new substantive allegations and claims which should be appropriately considered."

The judge dismissed a conspiracy claim, however. Peuler said that as a legal entity the trust could not "conspire" to commit battery and sexual abuse against Wall.

In 2001, Wall was married to her cousin by Warren S. Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The marriage was the basis of Utah's criminal case against Jeffs, who advised Wall to stay in the marriage.

Wall testified at Jeffs' trial that she objected to her arranged marriage to her cousin, Allen Steed, and said Steed subsequently raped her. Steed has been charged with rape but his case has not yet gone to trial.

Jeffs, however, was convicted on rape as an accomplice charges and is serving two five-to-life sentences. Arizona is pursing related charges.

Bruce R. Wisan, the court-appointed fiduciary overseeing the trust, had asked Peuler to dismiss Wall's case. His attorneys argued the trust, which holds virtually all property in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., was not liable for any claims related to her marriage.

The sect's control over the trust was revoked in 2005 after it failed to respond to two other lawsuits targeting its assets; those lawsuits have been settled.

Wall, using the pseudonym "M.J.," sued the trust in December 2005. Her suit is not part of a "stand down" aimed at resolving litigation involving the UEP Trust, Greg Hoole said. "We are essentially ready to go," he said.

The trust currently has no cash. The Hooles attempted to negotiate a settlement with the trust in May 2007 but Wisan rejected that offer.

The deal called for the trust to give Wall eight vacant lots, four acres of undeveloped property in Maxwell Canyon, and funnel $1 million into funds to provide food, shelter, education, housing, transportation and financial help to those "displaced" from the FLDS community or their families -- particularly women and girls.

It also required the trust to give the Hooles 11 undeveloped acres in Maxwell Canyon as compensation for their work on behalf of Wall and other trust participants.

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