Hearing set in ‘Sister Wives’ case
Courts • Family on reality show challenges Utah’s polygamy law.
Published: July 5, 2012 12:32PM
Updated: October 30, 2012 11:31PM
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Salt Lake Tribune file photo Kody Brown and his four wives — top row, Janelle; bottom row, from left, Robyn, Christine and Meri — are the stars of the reality television show "Sister Wives."

A federal judge has set a hearing date for arguments on whether a reality TV show family’s challenge to Utah’s law banning polygamy should be dismissed because prosecutors won’t file charges against them.

A central legal question in the case has been whether Kody Brown and his four wives, Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn, have the legal right to challenge the law even though they were never charged under it.

Lehi police did open an investigation when the show, “Sister Wives” premiered in 2010. The following year the Browns sued, arguing Utah’s bigamy law, which forbids both formal plural marriage and cohabitating with more than one person as a spouse, violates their right to privacy.

While prosecutors never filed formal charges, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups decided to let the case go forward because county attorneys’ statements to the media about the investigation could have a “chilling effect” on the Browns’ free speech.

Last month, Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman said his office had closed the case without filing charges against the family. He also adopted a formal policy, similar to that of the Utah attorney general, that consenting adult polygamists would not be charged with bigamy unless they committed some other crime.

Buhman has argued that with those changes, the Browns’ suit is moot and should be dismissed.

The family’s Washington, D.C.-based constitutional law attorney argued Waddoups should make a summary judgment in their favor.

The judge will hear arguments in the case July 25 at 11 a.m.

lwhitehurst@strib.com

Twitter: @lwhitehurst

The Polygamy Blog: sltrib.com/blogs/polygblog