Religious eviction case goes to judge
A couple's refusal to allow an arranged marriage of their daughter to a polygamist church member became the focal point of an eviction suit argued Thursday in Mohave County Superior Court.
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is suing to evict Milton and Lenore Holm from their six-bedroom house in Colorado City.
The lawyer for the church called Milton Holm to testify.
Holm said when he built his home on church property in 1976, he assumed that church's former leader, Leroy Johnson, allowed him to build and live on the property forever.
The Holms claim that United Effort Plan, a financial arm of the church, is forcing them out of their home because Lenore Holm refused to allow her then-16-year-old daughter, Nicole, to marry Wynn Jessop.
At the time, Jessop, a 39-year-old church member, was married and had 10 children.
The church practices polygamy mostly in Colorado City and Hildale right across the Utah border.
Salt Lake City attorney Rodney Parker, representing UEP, argued that permission to stay on the land depends on whether or not the Holms are church members.
The UEP attorney asked whether Milton Holm ever received the notice that he and his wife were ex-communicated from the church.
From your office," Holm admitted.
Parker asked Holm whether Leroy Johnson would allow people to live on the property who defied the church.
It would not be allowed, Holm answered.
"If President Johnson asked you to leave, then you would go?" Parker asked.
He was a justice and honorable man," Holm answered.
Parker also pointed out that Holm did not pay taxes for many years and was on probation for child abuse before 2000.
Parker hinted of violence and alcoholism in the Holm household and said these were the reasons for the Holms' ex-communication, not their refusal of their daughter's marriage.
During cross-examination, the Holms' attorney, George McKay of Phoenix, asked Holm how much time and money he put into the six-bedroom, 5,000-square foot home he built mostly by himself.
Holm testified that about 95 percent of the building materials he bought himself.
He also said he traded his $3,000 mobile home to buy building materials to start the home.
Holm also testified that when his wife let the church leaders know in January 2000 that she objected to Nicole's marriage, Holm said they probably would be evicted.
Ten minutes after Lenore Holm refused her daughter's marriage, Warren Jeffs, the son of Rulon Jeffs, then the church's leader, called Holm and told him he lost his priesthood, had allowed his wife to make decisions, that he was no longer a member of the church and to move off the property, Milton Holm testified.
Warren Jeffs told Holm that his father, Rulon Jeffs, had been displeased by Lenore Holm's decision.
The next witness to take the stand for the plaintiffs was Leroy Jeffs, one of the trustees of UEP, who explained UEP's function.
"It is based on faithfulness to the church," Jeffs said.
"If someone violates the commandments or don't support the leaders, anyone's stewardship can be taken away."
"Are Milton and Lenore Holm members of the church?" Parker asked.
"My understanding, they are not," Jeffs said.
Upon cross-examination, McKay asked Jeffs whether the church is subject to the laws of Arizona, to which Jeffs said yes.
"Are you aware that polygamy is against the law in Arizona?" McKay asked.
After an objection from Parker, Jeffs answered yes.
"Is it true that FLDS allows it?" McKay asked.
"We believe in plural marriages is part of our religion," Jeffs said.
Lenore Holm's ex-husband and father of Nicole Holm, Paul Knudson, also took the stand.
Knudson testified he also strongly objected to his daughter's arranged marriage and tried to stop it.
Knudson, who also left the church, also testified that he believed the church in the 1970s gave the land to church members and their children to hold and protect forever.
In the afternoon, the last witness, Lenore Holm, took the stand and recounted how she felt pressured by Warren and Rulon Jeffs to allow her daughter to marry Jessop.
She then changed her mind the next day.
Minutes after that call, Jeffs evicted them.
She reiterated her husband's testimony of how much money they spent on buying tile, carpet, drywall and plumbing for the house.
McKay asked Holm whether other non-church members live on church land.
Holm testified she knew of at least 20 other families who do.
During cross-examination, Parker asked pointedly whether she would like to see Warren Jeffs in jail and whether she was an activist against the church.
Holm denied wanting to see Jeffs or any leaders in jail.
She did say those who commit statutory rape of under age girls should be in jail and that she wanted the practice to stop.
In his closing statement, McKay spoke again of how much improvements the Holms have put into their home and how within minutes of Lenore Holm's refusal for her daughter to marry, they were ex-communicated and asked to leave their home.
Parker reminded Chavez that this case was not about compensation but whether or not UEP, as owner of the property, has the right to evict people.
Parker also said that despite practicing polygamy, even polygamists have property rights.
Judge James Chavez took all the evidence under advisement and said he will render a written verdict possibly within a week.
Chavez will decide whether the Holms can be evicted from their home or at least be compensated for it.