Hildale says it’s open to settling Justice Dept. lawsuit over FLDS control

Posted at 5:19 PM, Jan 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-12 20:32:36-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- The attorney for Hildale told FOX 13 the city is open to settling a massive civil rights lawsuit leveled against it by the U.S. Justice Department.

In an interview Tuesday, Hildale attorney Blake Hamilton said the town governments remained open to a potential settlement to avoid going to trial in Phoenix next week.

"Hildale and Colorado City have always been open. I can tell you that we're willing to entertain and work toward a resolution," he told FOX 13.

Hamilton said discussions between the town governments and the Justice Department have been held, but he would not say if they were close to reaching a deal.

"I don't know if that'll be the case, unfortunately," Hamilton said.

The Justice Department declined to comment on any settlement discussions on Tuesday.

Jury selection is already under way in the discrimination trial the federal government has leveled against Hildale and Colorado City. It accuses the governments in the border towns of discriminating against people who aren't members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church, and acting under orders from imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.

"That's not really what this case is about," Hamilton said. "It's about two things: whether Hildale and Colorado City discriminate with their utility services and whether they discriminate with respect to policing."

Despite the towns' objections, talk of polygamy, Warren Jeffs and how he communicates to his followers will be brought up at trial. Lawyers this week have been arguing over whether Jeffs' brother, FLDS bishop Lyle Jeffs, should testify even though he has refused to answer questions in a deposition.

"Obviously, Warren Jeffs is the spark, if you will," said Amos Guiora, a University of Utah law professor who has written extensively about polygamy and the FLDS Church. In an interview Tuesday, he said he believes the Justice Department has a strong case against the towns.

"I'm delighted to see the DOJ finally recognize a harm here," he said.

If a jury were to side with the feds, Guiora said there are many remedies it could pursue, such as dismantling the police force or installing oversight. Guiora said he would also like to see a remedy to curtail Jeffs' communications with his followers, though he acknowledged constitutional issues surrounding that.

"In terms of balancing his freedom to speech and their right to practice his religion, I fully favor protecting the rights of the vulnerable," he said.

Hamilton said he will show the jury that whatever problems may have existed have been fixed, noting it's been a number of years since any actual complaints were filed against the town governments.

"I think we're going to be able to demonstrate that while there were problems in the past, that there isn't a pattern or practice of discrimination that's happening now or in the future," he said.

The trial is expected to last six weeks with opening statements scheduled Jan. 20.