Do taxpayers owe money to ‘Sister Wives’ family?

Posted at 7:00 PM, Jan 17, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-17 21:02:45-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A federal judge is deciding if the state of Utah owes monetary damages to reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his wives, who won a lawsuit challenging the state's ban on polygamy.

In a hearing in federal court on Friday, the Utah Attorney General's Office insisted that taxpayers did not owe the Browns anything.

"They didn't pray for damages in the complaint, so if they want to put on a damage claim they've got to convince the judge they're entitled to it," assistant Utah Attorney General Jerrold Jensen told FOX 13 News outside of court.

Jonathan Turley, the attorney for Kody Brown and his family, said he would ask the polygamist before going back to the judge.

"We sought what we primarily wanted from this case, in striking this unconstitutional language from the books," he said. "I think the state is better for that. Whether there's additional damages, I always have to confer with my client."

Brown and his wives Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn, who appear on the TLC show "Sister Wives," sued Utah--arguing the state's anti-polygamy laws violated their right to privacy and religious freedom. U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups agreed, striking a part of Utah's law that criminalized cohabitation. While it remains illegal for polygamists to seek multiple marriage licenses, the ruling essentially decriminalized polygamy in the state.

The state has 30 days to decide if it will appeal, once Waddoups enters a final order. That will come after the damages issue is settled.

In an interview with FOX 13 News just before taking office, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said he intended to appeal. That interview was referenced in court Friday, as Turley said he intended to fight any effort by Utah authorities to overturn the judge's ruling at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

Outside court, Jensen said the state has not formally decided if it will appeal.

"Opinions on both sides are being rendered in our office about whether we should or should not," he told FOX 13 News.

Waddoups' ruling in the "Sister Wives" case has been overshadowed by another federal judge's ruling that overturned Utah's ban on same-sex marriage.

"He has decided he will appeal this case and the same-sex marriage case," Turley told FOX 13 News. "We've taken him on his word and assembled an appellate team. I'm very confident on how we will do in Denver."