Wednesday, July 13, 2011
‘Sister Wives’ Fear Polygamy Prosecution in Utah - UPDATE
from Utah News, 1 minute ago: Update: The Salt Lake City press conference with the Brown family attorney has just ended. The Brown family did not attend; attorney Jonathan Turley said they were in Nevada, where they moved this year after Lehi police started an investigation.
"Now, this family is not like a lot of families in Utah, but it’s not your family. It’s their family," Turley told reporters.Turley posted online a copy of the lawsuit. (See bottom of page for highlights.) The Tribune will update this story again soon.
When the polygamous Brown family steps up to challenge Utah’s bigamy law today, their first challenge may be proving that someone wants to prosecute them.
Kody Brown and his four wives came under investigation by Lehi police last year after the TLC network began airing their reality show "Sister Wives." They responded by moving to Nevada.
But nearly a year after the investigation was announced, no charges have been filed. Ironically, that may be their case’s biggest problem, said Salt Lake City civil rights attorney Brian Barnard.
"The fact that a law is on the books and maybe there might be a prosecution doesn’t necessarily give them standing to bring a legal challenge," he said. "Federal judges are loathe to weigh in on something hypothetical."
It’s something Barnard has run into before, when he represented a woman who wanted to become a second wife in 2004 — the most recent legal challenge to the polygamy ban. She sued when a clerk refused to issue a marriage license, but her claim was thrown out in federal appeals court.
For polygamy advocates who want to see the law changed, there is something of a Catch-22 at work. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has said he won’t prosecute plural marriages between consenting adult because his office is focused on polygamy-related crimes like underage marriage.
The handful of polygamists that have been charged in recent years, including Juab County’s Tom Green and Rodney Holm, a police officer who belongs to the sect led by Warren Jeffs, have involved underage marriage.
So Shurtleff won’t prosecute "clean" polygamy cases. (For his part, Shurtleff said the Brown lawsuit is "a little bit of a PR stunt.")
The Browns will step into this virtual stalemate. They’ve laid their lives out to the glare of reality TV, and their attorney says the police investigation didn’t turn up any evidence of child abuse or underage marriage.
In a Tuesday statement, Kody Brown said his family has struggled with stereotypes and unfair treatment due to their beliefs. But likely before they can lay out the legal case in favor of polygamy, they’re going to have to show a judge that they are truly suffering under the law.
The Browns may ask for "prospective relief," Barnard said, essentially: "Do not criminally charge me for what I do tomorrow."
But Barnard added that whatever the Brown’s do tomorrow, they’re going to be doing in Nevada, not Utah.
At a glance
The Brown lawsuit claims they are at risk of being prosecuted for bigamy and asks a federal judge to place an injunction against the law. The suit says that while they have moved to Nevada, the family “expects” to move back to Utah as well as return here to visit relatives.
The lawsuit also contends polygamous families are discriminated against because their lifestyle is criminalized but not the lifestyle of other couples who are not legally married.
The lawsuit specifies the Browns are only attacking the criminal bigamy statute.
“The Browns have formed a plural family, motivated by their sincere religious beliefs and love for one another,” the lawsuit states. “They have not, however, sought official recognition of any polygamous marriage.”(Source: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/52182460-78/family-utah-law-turley.html.csp?page=2)