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Salt Lake City Legal News – January 2017

Remember back when the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage and your newsfeed exploded with bizarre, seemingly irrelevant hypothetical questions like “Can I marry my dog now?” or “What about polygamy?!”. Well turns out that second one wasn’t so irrelevant or hypothetical for Salt Lake City residents. Some of Utah’s most prominent polygamists, Kody, Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn Brown, all stars of the TLC series ‘Sister Wives,” are seeking to decriminalize polygamy. It’s not going great.

The Browns argued their case in front of a federal judge while the lawyers from the attorney general’s office argued that polygamy causes harm to women and children and that even if every party in the plural marriage arrangement is a consenting adult, as is the case with the Browns, the practice needs to remain a crime so the state can prosecute serious crimes that result from polygamy. In 2013 Judge Clark Wadduops sided with the Browns. But then an appeals court threw cold water on that saying that the Browns couldn’t file a legal challenge because they’ve never actually been prosecuted with a crime. Usually the only polygamy cases that are prosecuted are those that include sexual abuse, fraud, or underage marriage. The Browns were not guilty of any of those. In response to the appeals court ruling, Brown family lawyer, Jonathan Turley wrote, “[they have] a fundamental right to follow their own faiths so longs as they did not harm others.”

In that spirit the Browns decided to take their case to the Supreme Court, which in turn said “no thanks,” meaning that for now the appeals court ruling stands and polygamy remains a crime. But they’re not done fighting. The family recently appeared in front of the Utah State Legislature to oppose Rep. Mike Noel’s HB99 which amends the bigamy statute, and other polygamists from around that state have vowed to keep fighting to legalize their lifestyle.

In other family law news, the Mexican Consulate of Salt Lake City launched an initiative for the Comprehensive Care of Women. The initiative is intended to empower women, specifically immigrant women, struggling with domestic abuse and help them get the resources they need.

Many women have been taught to believe domestic abuse is part of their culture, and are afraid to report their partners to authorities. The initiative seeks to help women overcome that fear. The program will ensure that Mexican consulates across the United States offer the same quality of care and get victims of abuse the help they need. The initiative is a prime example of how good people in government can help the people.

This next story is the opposite of that. The Unified Fire Authority’s board has voted to seek a criminal investigation into their former chief, Michael Jensen, and his deputy, Gaylord Scott. Jensen, who resigned last year, is now a Salt Lake County councilman, which adds another layer of awkward to the board’s decision. The first layer is the thousands of pornographic images found on Scott’s computer.

The Utah state auditor released a report that said Jensen and Scott had prioritized their personal interests over the agency’s. The details of their spending habits and their compensation packages raised some eyebrows.

The board is also looking to penalize their agency’s former attorney, Karl Hendrickson. The board voted to file an ethics complaint against Hendrickson with the Utah State Bar. Hendrickson resigned as the agency’s lawyer just last week.

All three are going to need to lawyer up and prepare to tell their side of the story, a side Jensen claims the public needs to hear. It will be interesting to see how he defends the $370,000 he paid himself and Scott, as well as the thousands of dollars in travel expenses and, get this, App Store purchases. I mean sure, we’ve all bought five more candy crush moves in our time, but thousands of dollars worth? Are there even that many apps? Or was it all spent in one app? If it was, I bet it was Kim Kardashian: Hollywood! Anyway, the Unified Fire Authority board is seeking legal recovery of all misused funds. The board’s vice chairman and Eagle Mountain Mayor Christopher Pengra said, “No penny is off the table…it’s come to be pretty clear that there are things that should not have happened.”

Salt Lake County District Attorney plans to hand the case off to the Utah Attorney General’s office. Some major legal drama is sure to follow.

But it will be hard to beat the drama of the ongoing legal saga that is the lawsuit against VidAngel filed by Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, Lucas Films, and Warner Brothers Studios. The studios allege that VidAngel’s streaming platform that allows customers to filter out material violates copyright law. VidAngel says their business is protected by the Family Movie Act. So far the court has sided with the studio.

After hearing arguments from the VidAngel legal team, led by attorney David Quinto, formerly an attorney at the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, and hearing the arguments from studio attorneys, Federal Judge Andre Birotte, Jr. granted the studios’ request for a preliminary injunction against VidAngel. VidAngel requested a stay of enforcement, and the district court denied their request.

So now Quinto and his team, which includes the law firm Baker Marquat LLP, Max Blecher from the law firm Blecher Collins & Pepperman, and Peter K. Stris from the law firm the law firm Baker Marquat LLP, are seeking an emergency stay from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 9th Court ruling is VidAngel’s only prayer of making movies available to their customers again. But the company and its legal team are prepared to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. In a reg A fundraising round, VidAngel raised over $10,000,000 from its customers, and plans to use those funds to fight their battle as long as necessary. Meanwhile customers are just going to have to cover their eyes and plug their ears to avoid consuming inappropriate content. Or, you know, watch a different movie.

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