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Can You Be a Polygamist Lawyer?

By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 25, 2019

Before going too far down polygamist road, it's important to know that it is an equal opportunity practice.

"Polygamy" is not marriages between one man and multiple women; that would be "polygyny." Polygamy is the practice of one spouse marrying more than one other spouse -- at the same time. In Utah, however, people think it's all the same. So can you be a polygamist and a lawyer?

The answer may surprise you.

Yes, You Can

Millions of people throughout the world live in lawful polygynist relationships.That includes places like India, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Iretea, Nigeria, and South Africa. It is most common in Muslin-majority countries like Senegal, where nearly half the marriages are polygynous. In Utah, not so much. Before it became a state in 1896, it was lawful -- but not since then. Now, polygynists there and in other fundamentalist communities are outlaws. Warren Jeffs was the poster boy for that. He was sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting girls he claimed were his "spiritual wives."

No matter where you live in the United States, it's not legal. Under U.S. law, it's just all kinds of wrong.

But Not Here, Maybe

You may not practice polygamy and law at the same time -- maybe.

A former polygamist has filed a complaint with the Utah Bar Association against seven alleged polygamist lawyers for violating ethics rules. Melissa Ellis was once a member of a polygamist group located in northern Utah. She now says they should not be able to hold public office or have professional licenses and alleges professional misconduct when attorneys "commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness." As background to the complaint, the AP reports Ellis is in the middle of a custody dispute with her ex-husband who was apparently represented by two attorneys in the complaint. One of the attorneys in the complaint is a leader of a polygamist group called the Davis County Cooperative Society, also known as the Kingston Group. Talk about intermingling.  

However, Linda F. Smith, a University of Utah law professor, said the bar complaint will probably not change things. "Lawyers have been polygamists in this state for a long time," she told reporters. "This isn't that new." The key to the ethics rule is honesty and trustworthiness, something Smith says really isn't affected by a relationship between two consenting adults.

If the case gets any further down the road, maybe TLC would like to do a series? Stay tuned.

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