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Judge won't dismiss 'Sister Wives' lawsuit

Published February 3, 2012 8:18 pm

Federal court • Plaintiffs: Removal of state officials won't affect argument.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by polygamous family made famous by a reality TV show who says Utah's bigamy law is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups did remove the state's governor and attorney general from the case in a 21-page ruling issued Friday, but allowed the suit to go forward against Utah County prosecutors.

Waddoups decided Kody Brown and his four wives — Meri, Christine, Janelle and Robyn — face a "credible threat" of prosecution in Utah County, but not at the state level.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has a stated policy that he won't prosecute consenting adult polygamists as long as they aren't committing other crimes. Before the show "Sister Wives" premiered on TLC, Shurtleff also assured the Brown family in particular that they wouldn't be prosecuted, according to Friday's ruling. Shurtleff could not be reached for comment Friday.

"It is clear that an objective threat of prosecution by the state of Utah does not exist," Waddoups wrote.

Waddoups lambasted Utah County prosecutors, who discussed a bigamy investigation to the Salt Lake Tribune, People magazine and other media shortly after the show premiered in 2010. County attorneys haven't filed any charges, but have repeatedly said the investigation remains open.

"The entirety of actions by the Utah County prosecutors tend to show either an ill-conceived public-relations campaign to showboat their own authority and/or harass the Browns and the polygamist community at large, or to assure the public that they intended to carry out their public obligations and prosecute violations of the law," Waddoups wrote.

Jonathan Turley, the Washington D.C.-based attorney for the Brown family, said the dismissal of state officials won't affect the arguments in the case.

The Browns "are both deeply thankful to the Court and appreciative of the opportunity to present their case against this statute," he said in an email message.

Turley wrote on his blog that attorneys are "deeply appreciative" the case will go forward "despite widespread predictions to the contrary."


Twitter: @lwhitehurst

The Polygamy Blog: www.sltrib.com/blogs/polygblog




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