Utah Supreme Court Will Decide if Polygamist May Remain Judge

Utah Supreme Court Will Decide if Polygamist May Remain Judge

Save Story
Leer en espaƱol

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday over whether polygamist Justice Court Judge Walter Steed is fit to remain on the bench.

Steed contends his having three wives is protected by the U.S. and state constitutions and does not affect his judicial work.

The state Judicial Conduct Commission has asked the high court to remove Steed from office, contending his behavior interferes with justice and brings a judicial office into disrepute.

Steed has served as a justice court judge in the polygamous border town of Hildale since 1980. Hildale and neighboring Colorado City are the primary communities of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is estimated to have as many as 10,000 residents.

He legally married the first wife in 1965 and married the other two in 1975 and 1985 in religious ceremonies. He has 32 children.

The commission contends Steed's marriages violate the state's bigamy law.

"So far, no federal court and no Utah state court has held that bigamy is protected by either constitution," even if it is practiced by consenting adults as part of their religious faith, said commission attorney Colin Winchester.

Even if an appellate court did rule that bigamy is constitutionally protected, it still is not acceptable for judges, Winchester said.

"Judges are held to a higher standard," Winchester said. "Our society demands that those who sit in judgment of others conduct their personal and professional lives in an appropriate manner. We do not want them to degrade or demean the judicial office they hold."

Steed's attorney, Rodney Parker, who often has represented the FLDS church, said the Utah attorney general and Washington County attorney knew of Steed's polygamy and both declined to prosecute him.

Parker said Steed's exercise of his constitutional rights cannot legitimately be described as lowering the esteem of his office. He said the case is one that involves the constitutional guarantees of liberty, freedom of conscience and freedom of association.

He said bigamy laws exist to prevent individuals from being duped into deceptive relationships. But in this case, Parker said, Steed's second and third wives, both of whom were adults at the time of their religious ceremonies, knew the situation and acknowledged their relationships would not be recognized as marriages by the state.

Polygamy was brought to the Utah area by Mormon pioneers in the 19th century. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned plural marriage near the end of that century as the territory sought statehood. The church now excommunicates members who practice or advocate polygamy.

Polygamists were prosecuted during the first half of the 20th century, but largely were left alone during most of the second half of the century.

There has been renewed prosecution in recent years following complaints of abuse, welfare fraud and underage girls being forced into marriages. The recent prosecutions primarily have been of men accused of marrying underage girls.

Utah and Arizona also have gone after polygamous policemen, revoking their peace officer certifications.

The head of the FLDS church, Warren Jeffs, is a fugitive being sought on charges that he arranged such marriages.

The Utah Supreme Court hearing Wednesday will be at Brigham Young University's J. Reuben Clark School of Law.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Most recent Utah stories

Related topics



Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the KSL.com Trending 5.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to KSL.com's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast