'Sister Wives' family won't seek monetary damages after fleeing Utah for Nevada
Bryant Livingston, Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY — The polygamous family that stars in the TLC reality TV show "Sister Wives" has decided not to ask the courts to be paid back for costs incurred when they fled Utah to Nevada under the threat of prosecution under the state's polygamy law.
Attorneys for Kody Brown and his four wives say the family only wants a federal judge in Utah to finalize his December ruling striking down key parts of the state's polygamy laws, court records show. The family reserved the right to ask for attorney's fees.
The ruling isn't in jeopardy of being changed, but it has yet to become official because of several unresolved, procedural issues.
Jonathan Turley, the Browns' Washington, D.C.-based attorney, said having to leave their homes in Utah cost the family at least $200,000. That includes money lost by having to leave jobs, and costs of health care and moving, he said. But Turley said in an email that the Browns didn't want to make the case only about them or their personal sacrifices.
"Plural families across Utah have faced losses under the threat of this law," Turley said. "This was never about money for them; it was about principle."
The Dec. 13 decision by U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups was a landmark decision and a victory for the Browns, who sued Utah in 2011 after a county prosecutor threatened to charge them under the state's bigamy law. Waddoups said a provision in Utah's bigamy law forbidding cohabitation with another person violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of religion.
The ruling decriminalizes polygamy, but bigamy — holding marriage licenses with multiple partners — is still illegal. Utah's law was considered stricter than the laws in 49 other states because of the cohabitation clause.
If the ruling stands, Utah's law would be identical to most other states that prohibit people from having multiple marriage licenses. In most polygamous families in Utah, the man is legally married to one woman but only "spiritually married" to the others.
In an interview with The Associated Press last month, Kody Brown and his four wives said they felt humbled by the decision. They immediately thought of all the other plural families over time who have had to live in secrecy, Kody Brown said.
Kody and his wives — Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn — said they hope the landmark ruling stands and enables other polygamous families in Utah to live openly without fearing prosecution.
The family's decision not to ask to be paid back was first reported by FOX affiliate KSTU in Salt Lake City.
The state has yet to decide if it will challenge the ruling before a federal appeals court, said Missy Larsen, spokeswoman for the Utah Attorney General's Office. Attorney General Sean Reyes has previously said he planned to appeal, and Turley said he's been told Utah will appeal. He said he's eager to defend the ruling before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
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