Utah’s ‘polygamy czar’ stepping down from post

Nearly four years after becoming Utah’s first “polygamy czar,” Ron Barton is turning his investigative skills to new ground: school trust lands.

Barton will move to the newly created post of investigator for school and institutional trust lands today — becoming a “tree czar,” as he puts it. He will ferret out theft of resources, such as timber, minerals and artifacts, from trust lands.

The new polygamy czar is Jim Hill, who joined the Attorney General’s Office as a white collar-crime investigator earlier this year after a career with the Salt Lake Police Department.

“They actually worked together on a couple different occasions [on polygamy cases],” said Kirk Torgensen, chief deputy attorney general. “We are not going to skip much of a beat. I don’t see this setting us back at all.”

Barton, who will assist Hill for a while, has “done quite a good job under very tough circumstances. Obviously, information is hard to get from the communities he is working with. But he’s been able to get some pretty good intelligence,” Torgensen said.

The news shocked one activist who worked with Barton.

“I am sad to see him go,” said Rowenna Erickson, co-founder of Tapestry Against Polygamy and former Kingston clan member. “I hope we don’t have to start from the ground up to educate this next guy.”

Barton said Friday it was his decision to leave the polygamy post, a position he assumed in October 2000 as Attorney General Mark Shurtleff vowed a get-tough attitude toward polygamists who engage in abuse or illegal sexual behavior.

Shurtleff is “the first politician in 50 years who has had the integrity to risk his political career to go after people in the polygamy community who are victimizing innocent people,” said Barton, whose great-grandfather practiced polygamy.

Even with that political backing, the job proved draining, Barton said.

Polygamy has flourished in Utah despite being disavowed by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There are some 30,000 polygamists here, most of whom belong to one of three major groups — the Kingstons, the Apostolic United Brethren and the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints. The groups are largely insular and shun interaction with outsiders.

“When I started this job, I gave out my home number and cell phone number, and some weeks I was doing more work at night and on the weekends than during the week,” he said.

“I may be getting a little burned out. These things take a long time to build momentum.”

Barton played a role in two successful prosecutions — Rodney Holm and Tom Green, both on child rape and bigamy charges.

He considers the willingness of some polygamists to engage in public dialogue about the lifestyle a sign of progress. An even bigger success is the recognition in the community that help is available if they need it.

“One success has been to send the message to those in the polygamist community who are being victimized that they do have protection of the law, the society cares about them and we will protect them as we would any citizen,” he said.

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