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Any appeal of polygamy decriminalization ruling will have to wait

Published January 18, 2014 4:52 pm

Courts • Attorneys must work through final issues of case.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The "Sister Wives" lawsuit that decriminalized polygamy in Utah was put on ice Friday while attorneys wrangle over a few final issues.

In a landmark ruling issued last month, Judge Clark Waddoups struck down Utah's law against cohabitation, effectively decriminalizing polygamy in Utah. The ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed by the Brown family, famous from the TV show "Sister Wives," alleging that Utah's laws against polygamy amounted to discrimination.

Waddoups' decision handed victory to the Browns.

During Friday's ruling, attorneys for the Browns and the state brought up two issues. The first was if Utah County officials, who threatened to prosecute the Browns but never followed through, had violated the Enforcement Act of 1871. The law — which originally was used to against the Ku Klux Klan — makes state officials liable if they use their office to violate someone's rights.

The Browns believe Utah County officials broke that law. Jonathan Turley, a Washington D.C-based lawyer representing the Browns, added during Friday's hearing that he raised the issue repeatedly in the lawsuit. He also said that state attorneys never responded to the Browns' claim that state officials broke the law.

However, Assistant Utah Attorney General Jerrold Jensen said that the state never responded to the issue because the Browns weren't asking for any monetary compensation in the lawsuit.

And that was the second big issue in Friday's hearing: money. So far, the Browns have not specified any amount they want as a result of the lawsuit. Turley said during the hearing that he would have to ask the Browns if they want to pursue some sort of compensation as a result of their victory in the case.

Jensen said that the state would oppose any attempt by the Browns to receive financial relief. Waddoups added that the case could end up going to trial over money, though the Browns could simply opt to forgo any award.

In any case, both the money issue and the question over the Enforcement Act have to be resolved before the lawsuit can be appealed to a higher court. Waddoups gave Jensen and Turley until mid February to finish writing briefs on these latest issues, after which he will schedule a new hearing.

In the meantime, the effect of the lawsuit is unchanged and cohabitation remains legal in Utah.

It also remains unclear if the state actually plans to appeal the case. Jensen said Friday in court that his office hasn't decided yet if it will appeal the ruling. He later added that he has yet to discuss the case with newly appointed Attorney General Sean Reyes, pointing out that the recent ruling allowing same sex marriage in Utah has occupied most of the office's energies.

— Jim Dalrymple II

Twitter: @jimmycdii