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Published: Sunday, 11/13/2005

The judge's three wives

A Utah judge wants his seat back on the Fifth District Court, but he has a problem. He's in violation of the state's bigamy laws. Maybe he shouldn't be a judge at all.

Judge Walter Steed has three "wives," and he's taking his case to the state Supreme Court. We are a nation of laws, and judges are sworn to uphold them. Utah's high court should have no trouble finding him unfit to sit on any court bench.

If the court refuses, and he returns to the bench, it is hard to see how any Utah court could ever fairly convict and sentence a bigamist. The rules are clear: Bigamy in Utah is a third-degree felony that can bring a penalty of up to five years in prison.

It's a shame that it took so long before Judge Steed - a trigamist, actually - was outed. He has been a judge in Hildale, Utah, for 25 years, ruling on domestic violence and drunken driving cases. After a 14-month investigation in which he was found to be in violation of the bigamy law, the Judicial Conduct Commission sought to have him tossed off the bench. His "wives" are biological sisters whom he married in 1965, 1975, and 1985.

Not surprisingly, Tapestry Against Polygamy, a group made up of women formerly in polygamous marriages, complained about him two years ago. Polygamy was a tenet of the mainline Mormon church. As a condition of statehood, the church had to stop the practice in 1890. Even so, about 30,000 polygamists still live in Utah.

Judge Steed's attorney says nobody has alleged that his marital status affects his work. Perhaps. But the attorney is forgetting that his client took an oath to uphold the law, and he is breaking it.

"You can't have it both ways," said Colin Winchester, head of the state's Judicial Conduct Commission.

It seems so obvious.

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