The Utah Supreme Court has found that Hildale Justice Court Judge Walter Steed flouted state law by engaging in a plural relationship with three women and must step down from office.
In a two-page opinion written by Associate Chief Justice Michael J. Wilkins, the court agreed with the Judicial Conduct Commission that judges must comply with laws they are expected to uphold and that Steed brought disrepute to the office by violating Utah’s bigamy statute during the 25 years he served on the bench.
“In the case of a sitting judge, it is of little or no consequence that the judge may believe a criminal statute is constitutionally defective,” the court said. “A judge ignores the clearly stated criminal prohibitions of the law at his or her peril.” The court noted that Steed had made it clear he intends to continue his plural marriage arrangement.
“Civil disobedience carries consequences for a judge that may not be applicable to other citizens,” the court said. When judicial officers violate or ignore laws, “the stability of our society is placed at undue risk.” Justices Matthew B. Durrant, Jill N. Parrish, and Ronald E. Nehring concurred in the decision; Chief Justice Christine Durham concurred in the result.
Tapestry Against Polygamy filed a complaint against Steed with the state Judicial Conduct Commission in 2004, which subsequently recommended the Utah Supreme Court remove him from the bench for bringing his office into disrepute.
The high court heard arguments in the case on Nov. 2 during a session held at the J. Reuben Clark School of Law at Brigham Young University.
The court included a footnote in its decision saying that a statute requiring such decisions to be made within 90 days of a hearing is beyond the constitutional authority of the Utah Legislature to regulate internal processes of the court.
“While we share the Legislature’s apparent view that these matters require our prompt attention, we view the statutory limit as being without effect,” the court said.