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After big lawsuit, family gets water from polygamous town

Published May 14, 2014 9:38 pm

FLDS • Ron and Jinjer Cooke said Colorado City discriminated against them.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It took about six years and a $5.2 million jury verdict against a polygamous town, but the Cooke family finally has water running through their pipes and out their faucets.

An attorney for the Cookes and a lawyer for Colorado City, Ariz., both confirmed the water was connected in April.

Jeff Matura, an attorney for Colorado City, said the city connected the water, in part, due to the jury verdict. He said the city wanted to "reach across the aisle and show some good faith to the Cookes."

But Matura said the city is not admitting any errors or wrongdoing.

"The Colorado City Town Council believed it was the right thing to do to connect the Cookes, despite the extreme water shortage in the community," Matura said.

The Cookes did not respond to Tribune requests for comment. Their attorney, Bill Walker, said he contacted Matura after the March court verdict and asked for the water connection.

Matura said he encouraged Colorado City's utility board and town council to approve the hook up. The Cookes had to agree to some standard terms, including paying for a connector from the water main to their home, and to pay the monthly rates.

The water dispute was the centerpiece of a eight-week civil trial earlier this year at a federal courthouse in Phoenix.

Colorado City and adjoining Hildale, Utah, are the home of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The Cooke family husband and father, Ron Cooke, grew up in the faith but left as a teenager.

Ron Cooke suffered a work accident that left him disabled, and the family moved to Colorado City in 2008 and took residence in an unfinished home belonging to the United Effort Plan, the trust run by the state of Utah that controls much of the property in Hildale and Colorado City.

Colorado City officials refused to connect the Cooke's home to the municipal utilities. The town eventually connected electricity and sewer, but refused to hook up the water.

At trial, attorneys representing Colorado City and Hildale argued the Cookes failed to comply with the procedures for a connection, that there was a water shortage and the Cookes' lawsuit was orchestrated by United Effort Plan Fiduciary Bruce Wisan.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the state of Arizona both joined the Cookes' lawsuit, all arguing that the Cookes were victims of religious discrimination.

They called to the witness stand former FLDS security personnel who testified how they were trained to use a network of surveillance cameras, on and off public property, to monitor the Cookes and other outsiders, and how the Cookes were subjected to harassment.

But the most heart-wenching testimony may have come from Jinjer Cooke. She told the jury about the hardships of carrying in water — and hauling out sewage — and caring for her disabled husband and their three children.

The Cookes asked the jury for $2 million each to Ron and Jinjer Cooke. The jury exceeded that. Matura said Colorado City and Hildale have not decided whether to appeal.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle