Happy New Year everyone. As we usher in the New Year of 2014, we reflect back on what we consider to be the top legal stories from 2013. There were a lot to choose from this year but we think most of you will probably agree the few we selected from for this list were the most talked about and in some cases the most controversial.
1. Gay Marriage Declared Legal in Utah
Could there be any doubt in ultra conservative Utah that this story would top our list? This came late in the year but the impact has been significant in the last few days. Just about a week ago, prior to the holidays, a federal judge in Utah declared Amendment 3 of the Utah Constitution a violation of the federal due process rights of gay and lesbian couples. As a result, gay marriage was officially pronounced legal in Utah and hundreds flocked to the local county buildings to get married. The attorney general’s office filed motions to stay the ruling but all so far have been rejected. The Federal Judge responsible for the ruling rejected a motion to reconsider and a motion to stay. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals also rejected a motion to stay the ruling. The AG’s Office has now even gone as far as to file an emergency petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in the matter. An appeal will surely be filed in the coming weeks and some speculate whether or not gay marriage will remain legal in Utah. But for now, all signs seem to point to this being the new law of the state for the foreseeable future.
2. Polygamy Effectively Declared Legal in Utah
While it is still illegal for polygamists to be issued more than one marriage license, the parts of Utah’s laws prohibiting consenting adults from living in a polygamous type relationship were struck down by a federal judge in Utah this year. So while you can’t go to the county clerk and receive multiple marriage licenses, you can declare yourself to be in a polygamous relationship. This case stemmed from the now famous Brown family and their run ins with prosecutors in Utah County. It remains to be seen whether the AG’s office will be filing an appeal on this issue although many believe they will.
3. The John Swallow Debacle
It didn’t take long for the accusations to start flying after John Swallow was elected as the Attorney General of Utah. It started off with indicted business man Jeremy Johnson making accusations of Swallow brokering bribes and then quickly turned to other indicted business men making all kinds of other accusations against the AG. Things got serious when the feds, the house, a few district attorneys, and the bar all began investigating Mr. Swallow. The investigation by the house proved many of the allegations to be true and brought to light all kinds of other questions including possible obstruction of justice charged. Ultimately, Mr. Swallow finally resigns from office. Criminal charges may be coming for the former AG.
4. Misconduct by West Valley Police
West Valley City Police Department couldn’t seem to keep themselves out of the news this year as story after story involving police misconduct surfaced. Following the officer involved shooting of Danielle Willard, the narcotics task force in West Valley ended up being disbanded and several of their cases thrown out by city and district attorneys. At one point, 9 officers were placed on administrative leave as improper use of evidence, informants, and GPS tracking surfaced. The police Chief retired shortly after the incidents and certain West Valley Police Officers are still facing possible criminal charges after DA Sim Gill declared the shooting of Danielle Willard unjustified.
5. The NSA Data Center in Utah
The Edward Snowden leaks revealed the NSA data center in Utah recently completed in 2013 housed all the cell phone metadata and email information for just about every American. While the NSA leaks were not per se a Utah only story, the fact that Utah is home to the NSA’s largest data center became a big focus of scrutiny in the state. Before this time, nobody really knew the data center being built here would be housing so much information about each one of us. It was also later learned that millions of gallons of water were required each day to cool the center’s massive server system bringing further critisim about the location of the secret spy computers in Utah.
Other notable legal stories of 2013 included the Martin McNeill trial, the “Mountain Man’s” capture, and the the Boy Scout’s changing policy on gay leaders and gay scouts. It was a busy year of interesting legal stories, we blogged on just about everyone. We always try to keep you updated on the various legal issues arising in our great state, follow us on facebook, twitter, or our blog for more.