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Judge’s Illness Halts Mormon Towns Trial

PHOENIX (CN) - A federal religious discrimination trial against two towns in Arizona and Utah with predominantly fundamentalist Mormon followers came to a halt Monday morning when the presiding judge nearly fainted and was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.

U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland, a 79-year-old visiting judge from Alaska overseeing the case, told the court after a morning break that he wasn't feeling well before dropping his head. Two jury members - one a nurse - and a law enforcement member came to his aid while his staff called 911.

At the start of Monday's proceedings, Holland told the court he had been sick with bronchitis for two weeks, and had just started to get his voice back.

Holland was taken from the Sandra Day O'Connor U.S. Courthouse in downtown Phoenix on a stretcher to nearby St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center.

The court was in recess until 1 p.m., when U.S. District Judge Stephen M. McNamee stepped in for Holland, telling the court Holland was "doing very, very well" and that the trial would resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the border towns of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah, claiming the towns limit access to utilities, housing and police to residents who are not members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The church's incarcerated leader, Warren Jeffs, is serving life plus 20 years in Texas for sexually assaulting two young girls he had taken as his "spiritual wives."

Before the morning recess, the court heard testimony from Sam Johnson, a sergeant in the Colorado City Marshal's Office. He countered allegations in the Justice Department's complaint that the Marshal's Office selectively enforced laws against non-FLDS members on the basis of religion.

Johnson, who was raised in the FLDS church but kicked out in 2012, said his upbringing as a church member and the discrimination his family suffered by law enforcement based on their religious beliefs influenced his decision to become an officer.

"The constitution is very sacred to me," Johnson said. "I felt like becoming a police officer and ensuring everyone's rights."

According to Johnson, his promotion to sergeant in the summer of 2012 could not have been influenced by the church because he was told he was "no longer allowed or welcome" at FLDS meetings in March 2012.

"Have you ever considered being an officer an FLDS appointment?" asked Blake Hamilton, an attorney for Hildale.

"Definitely not," Johnson told the court.

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