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Scott D. Pierce
Scott D. Pierce writes about television for the Salt Lake Tribune. Vice president of the Television Critics Associationn, he's covered TV in Utah since 1990.

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The Frank E. Moss United States Courthouse is shown Wednesday, April 9, 2014, in Salt Lake City. Federal court cases playing out in Utah will soon have a glossier, more modern setting. Officials on Wednesday are celebrating the opening of a new federal courthouse in downtown Salt Lake City, next-door to the existing building. They say it's a much-needed upgrade, with more space and better security. The $185 million building is designed to harness natural sunlight and use energy more efficiently. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
KUED's 'Courthouse' recounts LDS vs. non-LDS legal battles

The latest in a long line of KUED documentaries about Utah history hits the air Tuesday night, and who knew that an hour about the Frank E. Moss Federal Courhouse could be so fascinating?

"Courthouse" (8 p.m., Ch. 7) is not so much about the building itself, although there's background about the construction, the remodeling and how it ended up where it is - between 300 South and 400 South on Main Street.

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The quick answer to that question is that non-Mormon businessmen triumphed over Momon interests, who wanted it farther north and closer to Temple Square.

That's just one of many Mormon vs. non-Mormon storylines in "Courthouse," which is far more about the federal court here in Utah than it is about the building that's in the process of being replaced by the new courthouse next door.

That history begins with the latter half of the 19th century, when it was pretty much all-out legal war between the two sides.

"It is very fair to say Mormons felt the 19th-century federal courts were used to bludgeon the people and their church into submission on a wide array of issues," said producer/writer/narrator Ken Verdoia. "At the same time, non-Mormons in the Utah Territory felt the federal court was their only hope to balance society, politics and the economy."

That Mormons and non-Mormons were in conflict in the 19th century is unsurprising. But "Courthouse" hits closer to home as it details how that conflict continued through the late 1970s.

For decades, members of the LDS Church were intentionally excluded as federal judges in Utah. When Sen. Arthur V. Watkins, a member of the LDS Church, attempted to turn the tables and keep non-Mormon Willis William Ritter off the bench, it led to continuing strife until Ritter's death in 1978.

"Courthouse" is filled with great stories - the judge who was forced to resign by a whispering campaign; the judge who was shot in his courtroom; the judge who fought with the Post Office downstairs. It's also about some big decisions - polygamy, above-ground nuclear testing, gay marriage.

And, as we've come to expect from Verdoia and his team, it's a lively hour that will engage viewers.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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