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Laura Fuller entered law school with one goal in mind: To someday serve people who, like herself, embrace the plural-family lifestyle.
Her fervor was fanned, she said, by years of "false media accounts" about her family - the Kingstons - by anti-polygamy "hate groups."
"I felt I needed to give a voice to the thousands of children and adults who live their lives in fear of the state of Utah every day," said Fuller, 32, who has eight children with polygamist John Daniel Kingston. "I don't want my kids to face the same difficulties and challenges I have had to face in my life."
But reaching that goal is already problematic. The question is, given Fuller's lifestyle and the involvement that she and other Kingstons have had with the legal system, could she ever practice law in Utah?
Fuller finished her first year at a California law school May 10 and returned to Utah, where she enrolled in the University of Utah's S.J. Quinney College of Law summer program as a visiting student. She also signed up for an internship and asked to be placed with a judge.
There happened to be an opening with 3rd District Juvenile Court Judge Ric Oddone. But that internship was scuttled Monday after Oddone introduced Fuller to another judge: Andrew Valdez, who spent 16 months hearing a child-welfare case involving Kingston's children with Heidi Mattingly Foster.
During that case, Valdez ordered Fuller, then working as a paralegal for Foster's attorney, out of the courtroom because she failed to disclose her relationship with Kingston. Months earlier, Valdez, who eventually recused himself in the case, had asked if she was related to Kingston; Fuller said no. But a witness subsequently testified that she has children with him.
"I had a problem with her not telling the truth about her connection," Valdez said Friday. "I told [Oddone] that."
Valdez also told Oddone he worried about Fuller having access to secure areas in the courthouse because some Kingston family members had made death threats against him and others and talked of blowing up the building.
"It would be inappropriate and a conflict for her to be an intern," said Valdez, who also alerted court security and the law school's clinical coordinator.
Fuller disputes all that, saying she believed Valdez wanted to know if she had a legal, blood-relative connection to Kingston.
"He asked me if I was related. I said no. That was the truth," she said. As for physical threats, Fuller denies actual threats were made and said she never engaged in such talk.
"Never. Absolutely not. If there is any evidence of that, show me," she said. "I would never hurt anybody, least of all a judge in a position of authority."
But Oddone, presiding Juvenile Court Judge Kimberly Hornak and the law school's internship administrators agreed that Valdez's concerns were valid and a conflict existed because the Mattingly Foster case, now before another judge, is still open.
"Having a student go intern in a court and having a conflict of interest arise is not that unusual," said Linda Smith, a law professor and clinical program director. "My interest as director is to provide a good educational experience for the student. I think you're going to learn better in a place where the chances of you being upset aren't there."
A similar concern was raised about placing Fuller with a firm that practices in juvenile court and has cases involving the Kingston family. The college has since found Fuller another placement.
Fuller said she contacted Scott Matheson Jr., the law school's dean, apologized and offered to leave. She said he told her that wasn't necessary. Fuller also said she spoke with a professor who has scheduled Valdez as a guest speaker and offered to skip class that day.
After being told she had a right to attend, Fuller asked the professor to alert Valdez. At Valdez' request, the session was moved to the courthouse.
"I rescheduled the speech to a different location where I felt I would be more secure," Valdez said, adding that Fuller would be welcome to attend.
Given that she alerted the professor, Fuller said, it's absurd for Valdez to suggest his safety was threatened. "I am hurt and surprised that Judge Valdez has such strong feelings of hatred and animosity toward me and has taken steps to hurt me, my education and my career."
For his part, Valdez said he has no personal animosity toward Fuller.
A hurdle to overcome: Fuller isn't the first woman from a plural family to attend the U.'s law school. Smith, the clinical coordinator, said Elizabeth Joseph - a wife of the late polygamist Alex Joseph - earned her law degree there and often brought sister wives to school functions.
Smith said Fuller's lifestyle has nothing to do with her right to attend the school.
"We don't discriminate against people based on their lifestyle," she said, "and when they are practicing that lifestyle for religious reasons, there is even more reason to not discriminate."
Getting a law degree may be just the first hurdle for Fuller, however. One day, she will have to apply to the Utah State Bar.
One anti-polygamy group and other critics argue that practicing polygamists should not be allowed to work as attorneys because they are living outside the law.
Applicants to the bar must first be vetted by its Character and Fitness Committee before sitting for the bar exam.
Admissions Administrator Joni Seko said the committee vets 450 to 500 applicants each year. She estimates that about 25 to 50 applicants are asked to speak with the committee and about five to 15 are denied admission after a hearing.
Applicants are asked to disclose any violations of federal or state criminal statutes - including bigamy - and other issues that might affect their admittance to the bar.
Hypothetically, Seko said, polygamist applicants might be asked how they filled out their children's birth certificates. The committee has refused admissions based on an applicant's lack of candor. But Seko said she is unaware of any instance where polygamy was grounds for rejection.
"Someone who is an attorney is an officer of the court and so they would be expected to comply with the laws of the land," she said.
Billy Walker, head of the bar's Office of Professional Conduct, said the rules don't address polygamy. But an lawyer cannot commit a crime that reflects adversely on honesty or trustworthiness, or behavior prejudicial to the administration of justice.
'Family' help: On Saturday, Fuller wrote in an e-mail to the Tribune explaining that she is already looking forward to returning to California, where "people were accepting of the fact that I have chosen an alternative lifestyle."
Born and raised in a plural family, Fuller always knew she wanted the same for herself, a desire grounded in her childhood experiences and religious beliefs.
"I wanted to live all Heavenly Father's laws, and I knew that was one of them," she said.
Fuller said prayer led her to Kingston, who today has more than 100 children from relationships with about 14 women. There was no ceremony, no wedding gown.
Instead, Fuller said, her mother threw a "birthday party" to celebrate the relationship. Fuller is adamant that her relationship with Kingston is not a marriage.
"I am not married. I am not a polygamist. I don't cohabitate. The only crime I am guilty of is fornication," Fuller said. "If I should be denied from the state bar based on the fact I've committed fornication, then every attorney who commits adultery and fornication should be disbarred."
She and Kingston don't have financial or legal ties, Fuller adds. But they do have eight children ranging in age from 1 to 14. Their oldest daughter, born when Fuller was 18, is in her second semester at Salt Lake Community College.
Fuller herself earned two associate degrees at SLCC, one in paralegal studies and one in business. She earned a bachelor's degree in marketing from the U. in 2005 and, lured by a scholarship, enrolled in a joint law/MBA program at the California school.
At first, Fuller managed her studies and children with rotating help from other women in her community. But it proved too hard on everyone, and the children returned to Utah to be cared for by the other mothers.
So Fuller started coming home on weekends, catching a late-night flight on Thursdays and an early flight on Monday, never missing a class.
"I couldn't have succeeded without the help of the other girls in my family," she said. "It was a big sacrifice for everybody, but I feel it is worth it if we are able to accomplish our goals so our children won't have to face the same challenges we have had."
Fuller had begun to explore a transfer to the U.'s law school, hoping to end the separation from her family. Given the now-public controversy, she believes that might be impossible.
"I do have other options if the persecution is too strong," she said.
Tribune reporter Elizabeth Neff contributed to this story.