Lawyer Can’t Squirm Out of ‘Sister Wives’ Suit

     SALT LAKE CITY (CN) – Polygamists featured on television’s “Sister Wives” can advance their challenge to Utah’s bigamy law, a federal judge ruled.
     Kody Brown says he was “civilly married” to Meri Brown and “spiritually married” to Janelle and Christine Brown, and Robyn Sullivan.
     After TLC introduced America to the “plural family” with “Sister Wives” in 2010, the Lehi City Police Department allegedly threatened legal action against the Browns in interviews with People Magazine, The Salt Lake Tribune and other media outlets.
     Brown and his sister wives quickly fled with their 17 children and stepchildren to Nevad00a.
     In a July 2011 complaint, the family claimed that the state could not prosecute them “solely because they call themselves a family in the eyes of their church” and lived as a “plural family.”
     Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups Waddoups dropped Gov. Gary Herbert and Attorney General Mark Shurtleff from the action, but maintained Utah County Attorney Jeffrey Buhman as sole defendant.
     In the latest motion to dismiss, Buhman noted that his office adopted a nonprosecution policy related to the state’s anti-bigamy law. The lawyer says Utah County would reserve prosecution for “cases where such a violation is committed in connection with some other violation of the law,” Waddoups summarized.
     But the judge nevertheless said Buhman filed to provide proper public notice of the policy, which appears to be an attempt to dodge litigation.
     “The timing of Mr. Buhman’s adoption of the policy at issue suggests that the policy was not motivated by a belief that prosecution of plaintiffs for violating Utah’s anti-bigamy statute would be improper, but instead was motivated by a desire to prevent this court from reaching the merits of plaintiffs’ claims,” Waddoups wrote.
     The Browns say they want to return to the Beehive State to rejoin relatives and the fundamentalist Apostolic United Brethren Church, a Mormon offshoot based in Salt Lake City, according to their complaint.
     Waddoups said Buhman could truly believe that prosecuting in this case would be inappropriate, but he added that “there is no reason to believe that such a determination is anything beyond an exercise of prosecutorial discretion that could be easily reversed in the future by a successor Utah County Attorney, or by Mr. Buhman himself, if he should change his mind.”
     “As a result, Mr. Buhman’s adoption of the non-prosecution policy at issue in this matter is not sufficient to establish that future prosecution of Plaintiffs is unlikely to recur,” Waddoups wrote.
     Buhman implemented the nonprosecution policy more than 18 months after the Browns’ alleged conduct occurred, the 11-page decision notes.
     “The timing of the policy implementation, lack of any public notice, and lack of reasoning given for adopting the policy suggest that the policy was implemented, not to provide a remedy to Plaintiffs in this case, but instead to evade review of plaintiffs’ claims on the merits,” Waddoups wrote.
     “The policy implemented by Mr. Buhman does not provide Plaintiffs with all the relief they are seeking,” he added.
     The Browns’ attorney, Steven Turley of Washington, D.C., made a cautious statement on his blog.
     “The state has long insisted that this law is constitutional and that it may criminalize consensual private conduct between adults,” he wrote. “It will now have the opportunity to make that case to the court. We remain confident that this law cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny and we are eager to reach merits in the case.”
     Waddoups lifted a stay on the Browns’ motion for summary judgment and ordered the family to respond to Buhman’s cross-motion for summary judgment by Sept. 14. Buhman may then file a reply by Sept. 28.

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