A state court judge on Tuesday ordered the United Effort Plan trust to post a $5 million bond to ensure that assets remain available while the UEP proceeds with a pre-trial appeal to the Utah Supreme Court.
In May, the Utah Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in the MJ v. Warren Jeffs case, where attorneys will argue whether a polygamous trust should be held liable for what happened when a 14-year-old girl was forced to marry.
"MJ" is Elissa Wall, who is suing the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, its imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs, and the United Effort Plan — a trust holding much of the land in the polygamist-dominated border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. The state took over the trust in 2005.
Third District Judge Keith Kelly ruled last month that it was appropriate to halt proceedings in the civil lawsuit until the Supreme Court rules on the issue, which will likely take several years. But the judge told attorneys that he was hesitant to issue the stay, because UEP’s assets could be disbursed by the time a new trial date could be set — leaving no money for Wall if a jury rules in her favor.
Wall had asked the judge to order the UEP to post a $10 million bond. UEP suggested that a $1 million bond was sufficient.
On Tuesday, Kelly set the bond at $5 million, adding that if the UEP does not post the bond within 30 days, the stay will be lifted and a trial will go forward in January, as scheduled.
Wall is seeking $30 million to $40 million from the trust and other defendants. But only the United Effort Plan is defending the lawsuit and is presumably the only defendant with any assets to pay a judgment.
Wall was raised in the polygamous FLDS. She was 14 when she was forced to marry her 21-year-old cousin Allen Steed. Jeffs helped arrange the union.
Wall later left the marriage. Jeffs was charged in state court in St. George with rape as an accomplice. Wall’s testimony helped convict him in 2007, and Jeffs received a sentence of life in prison. But in 2010, the Utah Supreme Court overturned the verdict due to faulty jury instructions.
In 2011, Jeffs, 58, was convicted in Texas of sexually assaulting two girls, ages 12 and 15, he took as spiritual wives. He is now serving a life prison sentence.
Steed was later charged with sex crimes in Utah, but the criminal case was settled in 2011 when Steed entered a plea in abeyance to a reduced charge and served 30 days in jail.