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DISSIDENT FUNDAMENTALISTS FIGHTING TO KEEP HOMES

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Dissidents of a fundamentalist church have been fighting a seven-year battle to keep their homes.

After failing to conform to the church's mainstream doctrine, the group of homeowners was threatened with eviction.Leaders of this polygamist community in Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, say the land belongs to the United Effort Plan trust, which manages the land, and failure to obey the church's doctrine is grounds for eviction.

A decision on the enduring feud could be made this month by 5th District Court Judge J. Philip Eves.

If the suit is successful, the $65 million United Effort Plan trust - funded by contributions from members of the fundamentalist church - will give the dissident homeowners control of their land. The dissidents are fighting with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for control. The groups have no connection to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City.

About two dozen residents from the two communities have been fighting the trust since 1987 after they were informed they were "tenants-at-will" and could be evicted at any time. They said the church was trying to control the trust, and in turn, control their land.

The United Effort Plan was established in 1942 to hold property in a trust based on fundamentalist views. Nearly all property in the community is held in the trust.

Plaintiffs claim they were told they would have to vacate their United Effort Plan-owned land if they refused to adhere to principles of the fundamentalist faith. They say they have no quarrel with plural marriage and only want to live separate from the church's control.

The case was mothballed in federal court for five years before being moved to 5th District Court in July 1993. The civil trial began Dec. 2, and is scheduled to last a month.

The homeowners and their attorney, Reid W. Lambert, are pleased the case is finally going to trial and hope for an expedient end to the saga.

"This case was filed while I was still in law school," Lambert said. "We're pleased with how quickly things have moved since the case languished in federal court for so long."

Lambert has called several witnesses, including plaintiff Don Timpson, who testified that the homeowners expected to live in the community - in houses they built with their own money - forever. Timpson said they never asked for titles because they never expected to be evicted.

"Our fear is that if they gain control of this trust, they'll try kicking us out of our homes we built with our own money," he said.