SALT LAKE CITY -- The resolution of a lengthy legal battle over homes and land owned by a polygamous sect led by Warren Jeffs crept forward Tuesday, when a Utah judge gave initial approval for the creation of a trustees board to oversee the properties on the Utah-Arizona border.

Utah 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg approved the proposal, which now goes to Utah legislature.

Lawmakers must find a way to pay $5.6 million owed to Salt Lake City accountant Bruce Wisan, his attorneys and other firms hired to liquidate assets of a communal land trust once run by Jeffs. But until that happens, the long-overdue process of deciding how to redistribute about $100 million worth of homes and properties belonging to current and former members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Hilldale and Colorado City, Ariz., will remain gridlocked.

Jeffrey Shields, an attorney representing Wisan and the trust, told Lindberg that this proposal meets the requirements set recently by a state board that includes Gov. Gary Herbert. Shields and the offices of the Utah and Arizona attorneys general have also agreed on the plan.

It remains unclear what Utah will do.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert acknowledged Tuesday that the state has a court-ordered obligation to pay up, and said the issue "is not sneaking up on anybody." But he didn't go as far as to guarantee payment, noting that the state needs to assess its liability and determine if there will be more money owed later.

Lindberg said she supports the approach mapped out during the hearing Tuesday in Salt Lake City. The judge's approval is not a final decision, but rather permission to explore the option of the trustees board.

The proposal does not include details of how the property would be redistributed, leaving that up the board.

In a previous hearing, Lindberg expressed concern about whether a truly independent board of trustees can be created in the community. Many of the estimated 7,500 people living in the in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., are followers of Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Jeffs is serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting two underage girls he considered his brides, but continues to try to lead the sect of about 10,000 people from jail.

The sect is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism whose members believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven.

Utah prosecutor David Wolf said that was a legitimate concern but that they'll help ensure board members are capable of thinking for themselves.

Shields echoed that, saying safeguards were in place to prevent board members from being blind followers of Jeffs or anybody else.

Several former sect members attended the hearing, including 29-year-old Patrick Pipkin, who left the FLDS in 2006 but still lives in Colorado City. He likes the idea of creating a trustees board, but said it must be comprised of people from all the different groups who built the community.

Like many in the community, not all members of Pipkin's family are in the sect. He estimates about one-third of his 37 siblings have left the FLDS, while the rest remain followers of Jeffs.

Pipkin, who still believes in polygamy and has four children, has recouped his house, but wants to see other ex-FLDS get their homes back.

Another prominent member of the ex-FLDS community, Willie Jessop, said he's confident a board can be created that does what's best for everybody.

"There is enough compassionate people in the community that understand the importance of protecting their neighbors' interests, even if their neighbor is required to answer them nothing," Jessop said.

___

Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price contributed to this story.

___

Follow Brady McCombs at https://twitter.com/BradyMcCombs

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • "Young L.A. Girl Slain; Body Slashed in Two" -L.A.'s Daily News

    On January 15, 1947, the remains of Elizabeth Short, were found in a vacant lot in Los Angeles. What made this discovery the stuff of tabloid sensation, however, was the Glasgow smile left on the aspiring actress' face--made with 3-inch slashes on each side. This, coupled with Short's dark hair, fair complexion and reputation for sporting a dahlia in her hair, dubbed her "The Black Dahlia" in headlines. What followed was a media circus filled with rumors and speculation about the promiscuous 22-year-old's checkered past. What haunts theorists to this day, apart from the victim's uniquely nightmarish visage, is that the case remains unsolved after some 200 suspects were interviewed and ultimately released--making it one of Hollywood's most lurid legends.

  • "I Am Not Guilty - Thus Lizzie Borden Pleads Before Judge Hammond at New Bedford." -Boston Journal

    <em>"Lizzie Borden took an axe And gave her mother forty whacks. And when she saw what she had done, She gave her father forty-one."</em> So goes the lurid nursery rhyme to one of the most mystifying crimes of the century. The nature of the deaths of Andrew J. Borden and his wife, Abby, are trumped only by the identity of the alleged perpetrator: their daughter, Lizzie. Inexplicably found "not guilty" in contrast to the era's zeitgeist of swift justice, Lizzie's legacy--guilty or not--has become immortalized as one of the most perplexing cases of parricide in history.

  • "Texas Mother Charged with Killing Her 5 Children" -CNN

    In a case of mother-gone-mad that startled a nation, Andrea Yates, to her few friends and neighbors, was known as a mere recluse suffering from postpartum depression leading up to the birth of her fifth child. That all changed on June 20, 2001, when she snapped, drowning five of her children in their home's bathtub. She was convicted in 2002 of capital murder, carrying a sentence of life in prison with possible parole. As of July 2006, however, a Texas jury found her not guilty by reason of insanity.

  • "Buttafuoco Admits to Sex with Amy Fisher" -New York Times

    Known as the "Long Island Lolita," Fisher became involved with Joey Buttafuoco in May of 1991. Shortly after the two began a sexual relationship (she, 16, while he, 35, was married with two children), his presence and influence in her life became all she cared for. In what he's since denied to this day, Buttafuoco would go on to help an obsessive Fisher plan the murder of his wife, culminating in Fisher putting a bullet in Mary Jo Buttafuoco's head, but failing to kill her. In the highly publicized trial that ensued, Fisher accepted a plea deal for 15 years in prison in exchange for a testimony against Joey, who faced and served out charges of statutory rape.

  • "Murder of a Little Beauty" -People Magazine

    With a face that graced the covers of nearly every news and gossip rag during the winter of '96, it's hard to suggest the death of child beauty pageant queen JonBenét Ramsey had little effect outside the city of Boulder, Colorado. Found dead from a blow to the head and strangulation in the family's basement, coupled with a ransom note left on the staircase asking for $118,000 (conveniently or coincidentally, nearly the same amount Mr. Ramsey received as a bonus that year), as well as no obvious signs of forced entry into the house, the evidence was overwhelmingly stacked against parents John and Patsy, who managed to maintain their innocence throughout the investigation. The case reopened in 2010, but critics cite poor handling of the crime scene as obstructing what remains a mystery regarding the events of that Christmas day.

  • "F.B.I. Joins Probe in Slaughter of 8 Nurses" -Nashua Telegraph

    Tattooed with "Born to Raise Hell" on his arm, Richard Speck made good on his mantra through a history of violence, theft, alcoholism, and spousal abuse, but made his infamy known to all when, on July 13, 1966, he walked into a dormitory armed with a knife. After leaving 8 student nurses dead in his wake, only one, Cora Amurao, was spared--hiding under a bed until 6 a.m. Speck was found guilty of murder and died of a heart attack in prison. As one of the most press-worthy crimes of the decade, the grim events were used most recently as the backdrop for an episode of <em>Mad Men</em>.

  • "Sharon Tate, Four Others Murdered" -Los Angeles Times

    Perhaps the most terrifying figure in American crime to have never actually killed anyone himself, Charles Manson founded a "family" of wayward individuals who hailed him as a prophet. So strong was his manipulation, he ordered, on the night of Aug. 8, 1969, four of his followers to kill everyone at the residence of 10050 Cielo Drive--including Roman Polanski's wife, Sharon Tate, and her unborn child. Tate was stabbed 16 times, and her blood was used to write "pig" on the house's front door. The next night, Manson accompanied six of his family to the residence of supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife, only to help bind them before ordering their deaths. In 1971, Manson and three of his fellow defendants were found guilty of murder in the first-degree and several other crimes. At the time, it was the longest murder trial in American history, spanning nine and a half months, as well as the most expensive, estimating $1 million. Manson was denied parole for the 12th time in April 2012.

  • "Lindbergh Baby Kidnapped from Home of Parents on Farm Near Princeton; Taken from His Crib; Wide Search on" -The New York Times

    Used as the basis for an Agatha Christie novel (<em>Murder on the Orient Express</em>) and dubbed "the biggest story since the Resurrection" by famed journalist H.L. Mencken, the kidnapping and murder of aviator Charles Lindbergh's infant son continues to fascinate theorists today. Charles Jr. was discovered missing from his second-floor bedroom on March 1, 1932, along with a note demanding a then-unimaginable $50,000, igniting a media frenzy like no other. The tabloid pandemonium prompted many tips and leads, but none as concrete as a package containing the boy's pajamas and another message demanding the ransom. After some misdirection from the presumed kidnapper, Lindbergh's child was soon after discovered in the woods along a road near the family residence. Notwithstanding the evidence stockpiled against the easily vilified illegal German immigrant Bruno Hauptmann (who was sentenced), speculation prevails as to the true identity of the caper responsible in this tragic tale of one of America's greatest heroes.

  • "Not Guilty as Sin" -NY Post

    Still fresh in the minds of many and not to easily be forgotten, the trial of Casey Anthony turned Orlando, Florida into anything but the "happiest place on earth." Following a series of lies, misdirection and manipulation by then-22 year old Casey, Caylee's skeletal remains were found five months into the investigation, setting the stage for what could only be described as the most incessantly publicized and shocking trial in recent memory. The media had a field day that went on for months: Highlighting the young, pretty, party girl image used against her in court as the prosecution tore apart an aimless defense--or so it seemed. After resorting to throwing her family under the bus, incriminating people entirely made-up ("Zanny the Nanny"), and fabricating elaborate stories for the police, Casey was found not guilty of murder due to evidence deemed mostly circumstantial and not meeting the burden of "beyond reasonable doubt," inciting much debate regarding whether true justice was served.

  • "An American Tragedy" -TIME

    Known and heralded as the "trial of the century," former football star and actor O.J. Simpson found himself in the middle of the nation's biggest, most-televised trial following the deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman, but not before fleeing an all-points bulletin in his Ford Bronco with 20 units in tow, interrupting game 5 of the NBA Finals. By enlisting a dream team including Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro, and Robert Kardashian, the defense claimed Simpson was merely a victim of police fraud with regard to contaminated DNA evidence, while famously quipping "If it [the glove] doesn't fit, you must acquit." On October 3, 1995, an estimated 100 million people from around the world tuned in to watch the jury hand down a verdict of not guilty, consequently resulting in an estimated loss of $480 million in productivity and inciting an ongoing discussion of race in the judicial system that continues to this day.