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Settlement talks begin over FLDS trust

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Lawyers in the ongoing legal battle over the United Effort Plan Trust have begun meeting in an effort to end a legal war over the Fundamentalist LDS Church's real estate-holdings arm.

The Utah Attorney General's Office, lawyers for the court-appointed special fiduciary and members of the advisory board for the UEP Trust met in Salt Lake City on Wednesday to begin talking about crafting a proposed settlement. Lawyers for FLDS members suing the trust were not there, but will be approached with their ideas soon.

"We don't have any proposal yet, but we've got some parameters," said Jeffrey L. Shields, attorney for UEP fiduciary Bruce Wisan. "We're in good faith going to try to resolve this."

Talks of a settlement came to light as a hearing was supposed to begin on Friday in St. George over the proposed sale of 711-acres of farmland on the Utah-Arizona border. Some FLDS members sued to stop the sale of Berry Knoll, which they claim is a holy temple site.

After 3 1/2 years of refusing to deal with Wisan or the courts, FLDS members have broken their silence in a series of lawsuits challenging the reform efforts. Some of those lawsuits accuse the court-controlled UEP Trust of violating FLDS members' religious freedom rights by not allowing them to give their property over to the church.

The announcement of settlement talks has put those lawsuits on hold temporarily.

"In any negotiation, neither side is going to get what they want," Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff told the Deseret News after Wednesday's meeting.

Shurtleff said he would like to see a potential global settlement include a board to oversee the UEP Trust made up of current and ex-FLDS members.

"Maybe somebody who could be seen by both sides as impartial in case there's a tie," he said.

In 2005, the UEP Trust was taken over by the courts over allegations that FLDS leaders mismanaged it, including defaulting on multi-million dollar lawsuits filed against the trust and assets being siphoned away from it. The trust, with an estimated $110 million in assets, controls homes and property in the FLDS communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

The judge overseeing the trust appointed Wisan to manage it. He has been seeking to sell property to pay off nearly $2 million in debts.

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com