Utah judge backs off order to remove foster child from same-sex couple’s home

Posted at 10:26 AM, Nov 13, 2015

PRICE, Utah -- A juvenile court judge has backed off his order that a foster child be removed from a same-sex couple's home to be placed with a heterosexual couple.

In an order issued Friday and obtained by FOX 13, 7th District Juvenile Court Judge Scott Johansen scratched out his original decision to remove the 9-month-old girl from April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce's home.

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The couple, who married in August, were approved to be foster parents after a vetting by Utah's Division of Child and Family Services. But during a recent hearing, Judge Johansen ordered the child removed from their home, indicating that he had seen research that showed a child did better if raised by a heterosexual couple. All parties involved in the case, including the Guardian ad Litem, DCFS, and the foster parents objected.

In Friday's ruling, Judge Johansen scratched out his "belief" and instead wrote he had "a concern."

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The Utah Attorney General's Office, which represents DCFS, filed a motion late Thursday asking Judge Johansen to reconsider his ruling. On Friday morning, the judge allowed the child to remain with the lesbian couple and set a December hearing for an update.

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"I'm really happy," DCFS Director Brent Platt told FOX 13 on Friday. "It's not over yet, but at least we don't have the Tuesday deadline. The child can stay with the foster parents. That's exactly what we want to have happen and hopefully, we'll be better prepared at court to even justify our reasoning even more."

Platt called the couple "a good family," and said DCFS caseworkers felt the child was "a good fit."

"We have no reason to change our minds," he said.

Governor Gary Herbert weighed in on the situation on Thursday, telling reporters that he believed the judge should "follow the law." The state was sued by same-sex couples in 2014 after the governor ordered agencies not to recognize their marriages and provide benefits. A federal judge ruled against them and the state ultimately complied before same-sex marriage was made legal nationwide.

Brent Platt, DCFS director, in an interview with FOX 13 on Friday.

Brent Platt, DCFS director, in an interview with FOX 13 on Friday.

Platt said the state felt it was on solid ground in challenging Judge Johansen's decision. Now, they will prepare for the December hearing where Judge Johansen will review the case.

Platt told FOX 13 that they will not back down on supporting the foster parents -- even going to the Utah Court of Appeals, if necessary.

"We're hopeful that he agrees with us," he said. "But if he doesn't, then we'll revisit the issue and if we have to challenge the decision, we will."

Judge Johansen has been the subject of scrutiny before. In 1997, he was reprimanded for slapping a teenager in the courthouse. In 2012, he was criticized for ordering a woman to cut her daughter's hair.

The Utah Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission told FOX 13 that Judge Johansen was retained by voters in 2014 and will next be up for a retention decision in 2020. The last evaluation gave him an 88-percent approval rating.

Read the retention report on Judge Johansen here:

Learn more about judicial evaluations and retention elections here.