The Texas 13th Court of Appeals on Thursday of last week affirmed a lower court ruling and rejected claims made by former FLDS Church spokesperson Willie Jessop. Jessop was trying to claim ownership of the YFZ Ranch, or alternatively, the proceeds from a potential sale of the ranch.

When a lower court ruled against Jessop in 2016, he appealed the ruling to the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals. The case was later transferred to the 13th Court of Appeals where it was argued on January 30, 2018. The ruling has been pending ever since and was finally released late in the day on Thursday, December 13, 2018.

The court’s four-sentence judgment noted only that the trial court’s decision was affirmed, meaning that it agreed with the decision of Judge Brock Jones who was filling in for then 51st District Judge Barbara Walther. The judgment also ordered Jessop to pay all costs associated with the appeal.

Jessop broke away from the FLDS Church shortly after several of its leaders were convicted on charges ranging from bigamy to child rape. He subsequently obtained a multi-million dollar judgment against the church and several of its leaders after he accused them burglarizing his business office in Hildale, Utah.

Armed with the judgment, Jessop claimed ownership of several pieces of property owned by the church and some of its leaders in Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona.

Jessop tried to do the same here in Texas. But, the YFZ Ranch wasn’t owned by the church or any of the men against whom he held judgments.

State authorities raided the ranch in 2008. Evidence seized in the raid led to the conviction of several FLDS men, including the church’s prophet, Warren Steed Jeffs, who is currently serving a sentence of life plus 20 years following his conviction on two counts of child rape.

The state eventually moved to seize the ranch on the grounds that it had been purchased with money laundered funds and had been used in the commission of several crimes, including bigamy and child rape for which prosecutors had obtained several convictions at trial.

The move to seize the property was two-pronged affair, involving the forfeiture under criminal statutes and a civil forfeiture trial. The appeals court ruling opens the way for the state to move forward on a sale of the property to ETG Properties LLC.

The company recently completed a lease/purchase agreement for the property and has been conducting military training exercises along with tactical training for other clients. Just last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed that the Border Patrol’s Special Operations Detachment had trained at the ranch a few days earlier.

51st District Attorney Allison Palmer signed off on the $3.67 million lease/purchase agreement on behalf of her own office as well as the Texas Attorney General’s Office, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Schleicher County Sheriff’s Department. Proceeds from the sale of the ranch are to be divided equally between the four agencies.

Jessop, who is represented by San Angelo attorney Rae Leifeste, can still appeal the case to the Texas Supreme Court. Such and appeal is not automatic, however. The court’s nine justices would have to agree to hear the case.

The 13th Court of Appeals ruling was accompanied by a 13-page memorandum of opinion issued by a three-justice panel including Chief Justice Rogelio Valdez, Justice Gina M. Benavides and Justice Leticia Hinojosa. Justice Benavides wrote the opinion.

The court’s judgment can be viewed online at: https://bit.ly/2GvHldV

The three justices’ opinion can be viewed online at: https://bit.ly/2A2ik4f