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'Sister Wives' family speaks in new court filings

Published October 18, 2011 11:32 pm

Polygamy • Browns are challenging Utah's bigamy law.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Kody Brown and two of his wives featured on the television show "Sister Wives" have put in writing how Utah's bigamy law and the threat of prosecution has affected their family.

"We literally live day to day without knowing whether our family will be destroyed by a decision of some prosecutor in Utah to charge us," wrote Janelle Brown, one of Kody Brown's plural wives.

The statement — along with statements from Kody and Meri Brown — were included in the latest filing of the Browns' federal lawsuit seeking to declare Utah's bigamy law unconstitutional.

The Browns are trying to demonstrate the bigamy law has caused them harm and it is unequally applied.

The Utah Attorney General's Office wants the lawsuit dismissed. Among its arguments in court filings, the office says it is unlikely the Browns will be prosecuted and the family has been unable to pin any harm suffered onto a specific state official.

Kody Brown, who has four wives, wrote that he spoke with Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and his press secretary "on at least three occasions" in the year prior to the airing of "Sister Wives" about the family's desire to "go public."

"I asked Defendant Shurtleff if Shurtleff would pursue me criminally if I went public, and Defendant Shurtleff answered that he would not," Kody Brown wrote.

Shurtleff, according to Kody Brown, said Utah lacked the resources to prosecute polygamists unless they were marrying child brides, promoting incest or committing welfare or tax fraud. It is a policy Shurtleff has followed for years.

Yet after the first program aired in Sept. 2010, Kody Brown wrote, Utah County prosecutors announced they would start investigating the Browns. The family has since left Lehi and moved to Nevada.

"We also left the state to try to protect the family against the economic and reputational harm caused by the ongoing criminal investigation and the public comments by prosecutors labeling us criminals," Kody Brown wrote.

Kody Brown, who is in sales, says that the day after the investigation was announced, one of his largest account holders contacted Kody Brown's office manager in Orem and said they couldn't be associated with him anymore.

Meri Brown, Kody Brown's legal wife, said she was terminated from her job at a treatment center for troubled teens shortly after the investigation began, despite her bosses knowing in advance about her marriage and the show. Meri Brown said she was offered a severance package if she did not discuss the conditions of her termination. She refused, according to her statement.

"We have had to prepare for the possibility that the adults could be taken from our family — leaving our children without support or parental guidance," Meri Brown wrote.

"If this law were found unconstitutional," Janelle Brown wrote, "and this threat lifted from our family, we would feel free to finally return to Utah and would certainly resume our open participation in our religious community."

Bigamy is in Utah's least-severe category of felonies. A third-degree felony, it is punishable by up to five years in prison.


Twitter: @natecarlisle






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