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U.S. v. Mormon Towns Case Will Go to Court

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (CN) - The Justice Department must go to court to prove its claims that Mormon fundamentalists in two towns discriminate against residents who are not members of their church, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland denied the federal government partial summary judgment for allegations that Colorado City, Ariz. and Hilldale, Utah control access to housing, water, power and police for residents who are not members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS).

The Justice Department in 2012 sued the two border towns, Twin City Power, and Twin City Water Authority, under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and the Civil Rights Act.

Uncle Sam claimed the cities' joint police department, the Colorado City Marshal's Office (CCMO), "inappropriately used its state-granted law enforcement authority to enforce the edits of the FLDS, to the detriment of non-FLDS members."

Judge Holland rejected the cities' argument that there is insufficient evidence that the Colorado City Marshal's Office engaged in religious discrimination.

The federal government submitted enough evidence to create a question of whether the CCMO has a pattern of violating non-FLDS members' rights, Holland found, including evidence that "several CCMO officers, including Fred Barlow, Jonathan Roundy, Sam Johnson, and Helaman Barlow, dropped off parcels, letters, and contributions to couriers to give to Warren Jeffs, while he was a fugitive."

Warren Jeffs, former president of the FLDS, is serving a life sentence plus 20 years in Texas for sexually abusing two girls he called his "spiritual wives." He is believed to still lead the church.

The United States also submitted evidence that defendants' officers "were aware of marriages involving underage girls but did not open any criminal investigations regarding these illegal acts," Holland ruled.

But Holland did not accept the Justice Department's claims that a jury verdict in a previous case, Cooke v. Town of Colorado City, proved the defendants engaged in housing discrimination.

In Cooke, a jury found that Ron and Jinjer Cooke were denied a water connection because defendants falsely claimed there was a water shortage.

"First, as defendants have pointed out, the two cases involve different subsections of the FHA, which presumably means that the evidence necessary to prove plaintiff's FHA claim in this case will be different from the evidence that was offered in the Cooke case," Holland wrote. "More importantly, the Cooke case focused on the water issue, which is only one of the issues that plaintiff has raised in its pattern and practice claim in this case."

Holland granted the defendants partial summary judgment on the Justice Department's request for damages for four individuals. He found the government failed to present sufficient evidence that the people suffered damages from FHA violations.

Jeff Matura, an attorney for Colorado City, said he was pleased with Holland's findings and that the next step would be to set the case for trial.

"We've tried to settle this case, but the Department of Justice has been unreasonable in its demands," Matura said. "If the Department of Justice would put forth a reasonable effort to engage in a settlement, we would consider it."

The government may not seek claims against Twin City Power because it no longer exists. It may seek FHA claims against Twin City Water Authority, however, on behalf of three of the four people.

Attorneys for the Justice Department have not returned a request for comment.

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