House Rules

A surprising settlement in a Morman case

In a blow to the powerful fundamentalist Mormon church that controls most of the land in Colorado City, a Mohave County judge has ruled that religious dissidents Milton and Lenore Holm cannot be forced from their home without just compensation.

"I feel like Colorado City really is part of America," Lenore Holm says. "I was beginning to wonder."

The Holm family has fought the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for more than three years for the right to keep the home they built and paid for on land owned by a church-controlled trust called the United Effort Plan.

The bitter struggle in which the Holm family endured harassment and shunning in the isolated community on the Arizona-Utah border was triggered after Lenore Holm refused to give her consent for her then-16-year-old daughter to become the second "wife" of a 37-year-old man with 10 children.

Immediately after her refusal on January 15, 2000, to have her daughter enter into an illegal marriage, the Holms were told by church leader Warren Jeffs to vacate the home they had spent years building. They refused and were served formal eviction papers in June 2000.

UEP attorney Rodney Parker argued during the one-day trial last month that the case was a test of how much control a religious organization could exert over its members.

Parker said that church leaders had determined the Holms were no longer members of the church and therefore should leave church property upon request.

Defense attorney George McKay argued that the only reason the church wanted the Holms to leave was because they had refused to allow Lenore Holm's daughter to enter into an illegal bigamist marriage. McKay argued that the state could not condone the taking of property by the trust seeking to enforce trust rules that violate the state constitution.

Mohave County Superior Court Judge James E. Chavez rejected the public policy arguments, and instead focused on far more traditional case law when dealing with eviction matters -- whether one party is being unjustly enriched.

Chavez found in favor of the Holms, based largely on Milton Holm's contention that a former church leader had told him to build the home with the understanding that he would be there forever.

Chavez ruled Milton Holm could stay in the home for the rest of his life. If the church wanted Holm and his family to leave, it would have to pay just compensation.

UEP attorney Rodney Parker says he is "disappointed" with the decision and that "we plan to appeal."

 
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