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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Deseret News: Sister Wives suit to go forward against Utah County Attorney

Published: Friday, Feb. 3 2012 7:09 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge Friday ruled there is sufficient evidence to allow the polygamous family of the TLC show "Sister Wives" to pursue a lawsuit contesting the constitutionality of Utah's bigamy law.

However, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups determined that Kody Brown and his four wives — Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn — can only sue Utah County Attorney Jeffrey Buhman. Their claims against Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Attorney General Mark Shurtleff were dismissed.

Buhman threatened to prosecute the Browns after their television reality show "Sister Wives" debuted in September 2010, but his office has not filed charges. Brown moved his wives and 16 children from Lehi to Nevada in January 2011.

The family filed a lawsuit against Herbert, Shurtleff and Buhman in July 2011, claiming that Utah's bigamy statute violates the Browns' constitutional rights to due process, equal protection, free exercise of religion, free speech and freedom of association.

Waddoups wrote that the practice in Utah is primarily to prosecute individuals for bigamy only when other crimes are also being committed and that the Browns must show that there is a real and viable threat to their constitutional rights for the lawsuit to hold up in court.

"Although the court finds that no Utah state official has taken actions that credibly threaten prosecution, this is not the case with the Utah County Prosecutor's office," Waddoups said, explaining why Herbert and Shurtleff were dismissed from the case.

He wrote that Buhman conducted interviews with the Deseret News, The Salt Lake Tribune and People magazine where he made it clear that he intended to investigate and prosecute the Browns.

The fact that no charges have, in fact, been filed, does not matter, Waddoups wrote.

"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," the judge wrote. "Without any evidence to the contrary, the court assumes that these are consummate professionals making announcements of criminal investigations to apprise the public that they are doing their duty and seeking to enforce the law."

Because Waddoups determined that Buhman was sincere, there is reason for the Brown family to believe they could face prosecution in Utah and that could have a "chilling effect" on their ability to practice their First Amendment rights in the state. Waddoups wrote that this suit demonstrates what could happen if officials could make a statement that questions the right to free speech and then try to keep citizens from their day in court.

"Such precedent would not create a simple slippery-slope, but an unfettered path towards government harassment and abuse," Waddoups wrote. "Accordingly, (the Browns) have established standing to bring their First Amendment claims against Utah County."

In a court declaration written by Janelle Brown in October, she said the family lives in fear in Nevada and have suffered financial and spiritual losses.

"We have struggled with great difficulty to protect our children while trying to teach them our faith despite our separation from our religious community in Utah," she wrote.

The family has repeatedly expressed its desire to return to Utah once there is no longer a threat of prosecution.

Buhman said Friday that he had not yet reviewed the ruling and was not prepared to comment.



Interesting turn of events.

According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, in an email, the Browns attorney Jonathan Turley wrote that they are "are both deeply thankful to the Court and appreciative of the opportunity to present their case against this statute." 

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

 I wonder if heads are going to roll, or was this the plan all along? Do you think Turley  and his legal eaglets have the right stuff to win this case? Or will the Browns, somehow, mess it up?

What are your thoughts?

Read the full Salt Lake City Tribune article here: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/53442461-78/utah-county-state-case.html.csp

Cynical Jinx


  1. I guess the judge didn't see the interview where Janelle denied the move was based on fear of prosecution. I hate to see the Brown's rewarded for manipulating the law to jack up ratings on their "reality" show. Maybe it will backfire and some welfare fraud charges will be waiting when they return to Utah for court.

    1. Looks to me like the county attorney erred in publicly boasting his office was investigating the Browns and would prosecute (but never did). I wonder if the judge would have ruled differently if the county attorney had actually followed thru and charged Kody or better, had kept his mouth shut.

      My gut feeling is that the Browns may win this one, because of the county attorney's empty threat to prosecute.

    2. Actually, boston corgi, it is quite possible that Janelle's interview will be used as evidence going forward. Now that the case will move forward on the merits, all of the Browns' statements can be used against them.

      The one question I have......

      The Utah County Prosecutor's Office made a public statement several months ago that the Browns were being investigated for crimes 'other' than polygamy. I wonder if the County Prosecutor is now forced to play his hand and will make arrests for whatever other issue they were looking at.

      I think this situation just got very interesting and it may backfire on the Browns. They may wish, at the end of the day, that they left it all alone.

    3. The facts are now over. This is pure theory now, and it just got interesting.

      It's not about the Browns anymore, it's about whether the law is constitutional.

  2. "The family has repeatedly expressed its desire to return to Utah once there is no longer a threat of prosecution"

    I almost spit out my drink i was laughing so hard when i read this! Sorry, moving on...

  3. What about the state laws on welfare fraud?

  4. So somebody investigates and now there is to be a costly review to see if polygamy is unconstitutional, which it clearly is according to their state constitution. It may be the practice is not to prosecute unless other crimes are alleged but how is one to know if not investigated. If they want to change the constitution it requires an amendment of their state constitution, presumably by a vote of the people, and I would not think they would want to do that. All hell could break loose to the detriment of every single person associated with any form of mormonism. Monies could be pouring in to the detriment of the state from all other states in the union, and stories both true and untrue could unfold. It all makes for a very interesting distraction from problems far more complex than the clearly detrimental to society effect of polygamy. But who cares about terrorism, war, economics, welfare of U.S. citizens, fuel, when these gossipy myths can be argued. They should all be booted prematurely to other planets.

  5. Isn't it bizarre when you can sue state law enforcement for threatening to uphold the laws of that state?

    1. You are so right! That's what is driving me crazy about this. They openly violate the polygamy law but can now turn around and sue because they were "traumatized" about being investigated...what was that judge thinking? On the other hand, I think they Brown's will learn very quickly that this court case was not a smart move- the State will come back swinging hard. Kody better load up on Prozac and watch bands for the crew!

    2. I agree, Corgi.

      If the Browns want to play with the State Government on this level, they had better be prepared for serious and skilled opposition.

      "Traumatized financially and spiritually"....really??

      Not only will Janelles's admission be evidence, but so will Christine's proud admission that they were going to challenge the government way back when she stood up in the audience at some event. it's all documented. As is every TLC episode.

      Traumatized *spiritually* when the sistas willingly and on camera stroll down the "more colorful" section of the strip? Plenty of other parts of Vegas they could have gone to for their girls nite out.

      Traumatized financially when they move from one house to *four* and Kody drives a Lexus?

      Kody may think he is sly like a fox in all of this, but we shall see.

    3. The article says the Browns can only sue the County Attorney. Seems to me if the County Attorney had kept his mouth shut and not boasted about prosecuting the Browns to various news outlet, that part of the lawsuit would have been dismissed too. I dont think the county attorney has the legal smarts to win.

  6. Woo boy! I'ma challenge that incest felony while we're suing the state for enforcing felonies.

    There's nothing these people won't do for attention. I hope that yokel DA charges everything he can come up with and has these people extradited. Give them what they asked for!

  7. With a state attorney who clearly wants decriminalization (to get the critics off his back who slam him for not enforcing the law) and with judges whose faith is based on a polygamist (Joseph Smith) and whose own grandparents or great grandparents practiced polygamy, I am less than optimistic about the outcome. Add fame-seeking attorney Jonathon Turley to the mix and the prospects are even worse.

    1. This is federal, and it's going straight to California and then to Washington no matter what the outcome of the Utah court. This just got very interesting. Too bad feds don't move at the speed of reality TV.