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A Carbon County judge who last week ordered a foster child removed from a Price couple's home because they are lesbians has disqualified himself from the case.
Seventh District Juvenile Judge Scott Johansen signed an order Monday referring all pending matters in the case to the presiding judge of the district, Judge Mary Manley.
Johansen's disqualification comes amid a chorus of voices calling for sanctions after he cited unspecified research questioning the wellbeing of children raised by same-sex parents in the ruling.
On Monday, the Alliance for a Better Utah asked the Utah Legislature to begin impeachment proceedings against Johansen and launched a Web-based petition on change.org.
"If Judge Johansen wants to act like Judge Judy, then he should get a reality TV shot," Josh Kanter, the founder and board president said in a news release. "Judge Johansen should be impeached and removed from office."
On Friday, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay- and transgender-rights advocacy group, filed a formal complaint against Johansen with Utah's Judicial Conduct Commission and asked for an investigation into what it said was a "clear violation" of rules prohibiting discrimination in judicial decision-making.
Colin Winchester, executive director of the commission, said Monday he could not confirm whether a complaint about Johansen had been filed, because those matters are private.
The commission does have a process for investigating complaints, which includes up to five steps and can result in sanctions from the Utah Supreme Court, Winchester said. The process begins with an initial screening by commission staff and advances through each step only if complaints are substantiated, according to an explanation of the process on the commission's website.
Judges may face a variety of sanctions, including reprimand, censure, suspension and removal from office.
On average, the complaint process takes about eight months, Winchester said.
For the Utah Legislature to act, a House member must bring a resolution, which typically states the reasons for impeachment, according to Chuck Gates, director of House majority caucus communications.
In a Nov. 10 ruling, Johansen ordered state child-welfare officials to remove a 9-month-old girl from the home of April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce because he believed it was "not in the best interest of children to be raised by same-sex couples."
The women, who are married and licensed foster parents, have cared for the girl since August and want to adopt her.
The state is moving to terminate the parental rights of the girl's biological mother. She has told the court that she wants her daughter raised by Hoagland and Peirce.
But Johansen amended his own order Nov. 12 amid firestorm of criticism, including from Gov. Gary Herbert, who said the ruling was "puzzling," and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who expressed support for the women via Twitter, saying: "Being a good parent has nothing to do with sexual orientation thousands of families prove that."
In his amended order, Johansen expressed a continued "concern" for the wellbeing of children, but crossed out several sentences detailing his beliefs, including those that said same-sex relationships are less stable and that their children suffer great emotional problems.
A Dec. 4 hearing had been set before Johansen to determine what was best for the girl. It was not immediately clear whether that hearing would still be held.
In a statement released through the LGBT advocacy group Equality Utah, Hoagland and Peirce said: "We are thankful that Judge Johansen has decided to step aside. Our greatest concern now is taking care of our beautiful baby foster daughter. We are grateful for the outpouring of love and support from people all across the nation. We are grateful that our family is now being treated equally under the law."
Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, said, "We applaud Judge Johansen for recusing himself from this case. LGBT parents love and adore their children with as much devotion as our heterosexual counterparts. Sexual orientation should never be a barrier to raising a loving family."
A recent Columbia University Law School review of scholarly research on the wellbeing of children with gay parents found the majority 73 of 77 studies concluded children in same-sex households fare no worse than those with heterosexual parents. Four studies found the children of gay or lesbian parents face some additional challenges, however those studies "conflate children of gay parents with children of family breakup, a cohort known to face added risks because of their history of family transitions," the Columbia review said.
Johansen, a former Emery County attorney who was appointed to the Utah bench in 1992, has a history of controversial behavior and rulings.
In 1997, he was reprimanded for slapping a 16-year-old boy who was belligerent during a meeting. And he was criticized in 2012 for ordering a woman to cut off her 13-year-old daughter's ponytail as punishment for the teen cutting hair off a 3-year-old.