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Judge finalizes 'Sister Wives' ruling as both sides prepare for appeals

Published August 28, 2014 7:59 am

Courts • He also says Utah County attorney violated the Brown family's rights during investigation.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

A federal judge on Wednesday finalized the order striking part of Utah's bigamy law and gave one more victory to the family from the television show "Sister Wives."

The long legal battle over polygamy in Utah now appears headed to the appeals courts. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has said he would appeal the federal court ruling when it became final. Kody Brown and his four wives, too, have been prepared for more rounds in the courts.

Jonathan Turley, the attorney for the Brown family, encouraged Reyes to reconsider his plan to appeal.

"Attorney General Reyes takes an oath to protect the Constitution and that is exactly what this decision does," Turley said in an interview Wednesday. "For the state of Utah to appeal this case, it will have to go to [the appeals court in] Denver and argue against the freedom of religion."

A statement from Reyes' office on Wednesday said attorneys are reviewing the decision.

Federal Judge Clark Waddoups in December struck the section of Utah's bigamy statute that can be applied when someone "cohabits with another person" to whom they are not legally married. Utah law made such a union a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Waddoups said the ban violated the First and 14th amendments to the Constitution.

Waddoups let stand the portion of the statute that prevents someone from having more than one active marriage license.

In the final portion of his ruling Wednesday, Waddoups found the Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman violated the Browns' constitutional rights when he oversaw a 2010 investigation into whether the Brown family was committing bigamy. At the time the Browns lived in Lehi. They have since moved to Nevada. Buhman eventually decided not to file criminal charges, but Waddoups said the investigation stifled the Browns' rights to free speech, religion and equal protection.

Waddoups ordered Utah to pay the Browns' attorney fees as a result of that finding.

In court filings and oral arguments before Waddoups, attorneys for Utah have argued polygamy is inherently harmful to woman and children and the state had an interest in deterring it.

The Browns filed their lawsuit in July 2011, arguing Utah's law violated their right to privacy. The family's argument relied primarily on the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down the Texas law banning sodomy, which was celebrated by gay rights advocates.

Reyes' office is already appealing a marriage ruling that came days after the bigamy ruling. That second ruling struck down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage.

"Sister Wives" chronicles the lives of Kody, Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn Brown and their children. Utah County authorities began their investigation of the family after their show debuted.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle