A federal judge refused Friday to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a family of reality TV show stars who want to see polygamy decriminalized.
Utah state attorneys argued the "Sister Wives" suit should be dismissed after a prosecutor pledged not to prosecute them for bigamy, but U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups disagreed. In his Friday ruling, Waddoups wrote that a new Utah County Attorney's Office policy to avoid prosecuting consenting adult polygamists in the future seems to have been ploy to avoid the suit.
The "strategic attempt to use the mootness doctrine to evade review in this case draws into question the sincerity of [the Utah County Attorney's]contention that prosecution of plaintiffs for violating this statute is unlikely to recur," Waddoups wrote.
The Browns' Washington, D.C.-based attorney applauded the decision, saying that it "shows that there will be no alternative to a ruling on the merits in this case."
"Both the Brown family and the people of Utah can now expect a ruling on the power of the state to criminalize private relations among consenting adults," said attorney Jonathan Turley in a blog entry.
Utah Attorney General's Office spokesman Paul Murphy said he was "disappointed" by the ruling but unsurprised after Waddoups grilled state attorneys in a late-July hearing.
"We thought this case shouldn't have any standing, because the prosecution didn't plan to file any charges against the Browns," Murphy said. "We will continue to [defend the law] in court."
The Browns argue that Utah's bigamy law should be overturned because it violates their right to privacy. The state sought to have the suit thrown out, first arguing that the Browns didn't have the right to challenge the law because they hadn't actually been charged. But Waddoups also sided with the family then, ruling in February that an open police investigation and prosecutors' remarks to the media constituted a possible "chilling effect" on the Browns' free speech.
Police first opened the investigation in 2010, after the TLC show "Sister Wives" premiered. The family then moved from Lehi to Nevada, calling the investigation a "sword of Damocles" hanging over their heads.
The next filing deadline in the case is Aug. 31.
The Polygamy Blog: www.sltrib.com/blogs/polygblog
P New filing deadlines in the "Sister Wives" case were set for Aug. 31, Sept. 14 and Sept. 28.