Judge Must Follow the Law Despite His Personal Beliefs

GeorgiaLeeLang100Under international media scrutiny and political pressure Utah judge Scott Johansen reversed his recent decision to remove a 9-month old foster child from the home of  April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce, a married lesbian couple in Price, Utah.

Ms. Hoagland and Ms. Pierce had fostered the baby for three months and expected to adopt the child. They had the approval and consent of the child’s mother and the local department of child welfare. During the initial hearing when Judge Johansen ordered the child welfare authorities to remove the child within seven days, he  remarked that he had read literature stating that children were better off being raised in a home with a mother and a father.

But the intervention of Utah’s Republican Governor Gary Herbert and the media maelstrom, including tweets from Hilary Clinton and a variety of anti-discrimination organizations led to a follow-up ruling from Judge Johansen who amended his original order and scheduled a hearing on December 4, 2015 to determine the best interests of the infant.

Judge Johansen is no stranger to controversy. In 1995 while interviewing a 16-year old young offender in his chambers, he slapped the youth after he tired of the boy’s belligerent insults. More recently, in 2012 a female child appeared in juvenile court for cutting the hair of a 3-year old child. Her punishment included cutting off the juvenile’s own pony tail, a sanction that led to the filing of a complaint by the juvenile offender’s mother.

While judges have significant discretion, where a legislature passes laws legalizing same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption, it is not open to a judge to inject his personal views into the decision. Only the Supreme Court of Canada and the Supreme Court of the United States can do that, although if asked, I suspect they would vigorously deny it.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

TV’s Polygamous Family Challenges Utah Law

The constitutionality of polygamy has already been determined in British Columbia and now it’s coming before the courts of Utah, home base for the polygamous sect of the Mormon faith.

After their significant television exposure, the cast of Sister Wives, Kody Brown and his four wives, Meri, Janelle, Christine, Robyn and their seventeen children, received threats of prosecution from Utah County Attorney Jeffrey Buhman. Just like in Canada, polygamy is a criminal offence in Utah.

While no charges were filed against the Brown family, they decided to take matters into their own hands and sued Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert and Attorney-General Mark Shurtleff, claiming that Utah’s law violates their constitutional rights to freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of association.

The Court allowed their law suit to proceed, but ruled that the Governor and his Attorney-General must be removed as defendants because of the Attorney-General’s policy of not enforcing the polygamy law against consenting adult polygamists who are not committing other crimes.

That leaves prosecutor Jeffrey Buhman as the lone defendant, who made it clear in multiple media interviews, that he intends to prosecute the family, although the Court noted he has not yet done so. Judge Clark Waddoups also voiced his opinion on the Mr. Buhman’s strategy:

“The entirety of actions by the Utah County prosecutors tend to show either an ill-conceived
public relations campaign to showboat their own authority and/or harass the Browns and the
polygamous community at large or to assure the public that they intended to carry out their
public obligations and prosecute violations of the law.”

If the case unfolds as it did in British Columbia, the law against polygamy will survive, just like it did in British Columbia.

Meanwhile, Kody and his family are now living in Las Vegas.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang