A juvenile court judge in Utah ordered a 9-month-old girl be removed from her foster parents because they are a lesbian couple.
Hoagland and Peirce said 7th District Judge Scott Johansen decided to remove the child from their home because of research he claims shows a child is better off with heterosexual parents, according to the Tribune.
The 65-year-old judge has not released his order or the research he used in making his decision. A spokesperson for the judicial branch has said judges do not comment on cases before the court.
Here’s what you need to know about Judge Johansen and his ruling:
1. The State Says Moving the Girl Is Not in Her Best Interest
Judge Scott Johansen’s ruling has drawn opposition from both the lesbian couple, April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce, and from the state. The Utah Division of Child and Family Services has filed a petition to stay the order, along with an attorney for the couple.
The agency has until November 17 to move the child, according to the judge’s order. The girl has been with the couple since August. DCFS said in statement:
The juvenile court judge made the determination that the child would be better served in the home of a heterosexual couple, and mentioned but did not directly cite research that supported his decision.
This order was contrary to our recommendation to the judge, and all parties objected to the order on record. The juvenile court judge made the decision to proceed with the order to remove the child from the current foster home by the end of Tuesday, November 17th. At this time we have filed a motion with Judge Johansen to stay his order. Unless Judge Johansen vacates his order DCFS will proceed with our petition to the court of appeals.
The couple’s attorney, James Hunnicutt, told the Salt Lake Tribune, “What (the judge) did was obviously just unconstitutional and against the law. I don’t care if there is hearing, or if the system corrects this on its own. I just want this mistake remedied as soon as possible for the benefit of the child and the benefit of my clients.”
Utah previously barred same-sex couples from adopting or fostering children, but that law was changed when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of gay couples to marry.
Karen McCreary, the executive director of the ACLU in Utah, said in a statement:
No child should be denied stability and separated from a loving family because of a judge’s baseless beliefs about lesbian and gay parents. There is a clear scientific consensus that children of same-sex parents fare no differently than their peers. Claims to the contrary have been consistently rejected by courts. The ACLU of Utah will continue to closely monitor the situation. We affirm that decisions about the best interest of a child should not be based on discredited and damaging assumptions. That kind of reasoning serves no one’s best interests and directly works against the interests of foster children, the state’s most vulnerable children.
The state’s Republican governor also addressed the issue.
“I’m a little puzzled by the action down there, personally,” Governor Gary Herbert said Thursday. “[The judge] may not like the law, but he should follow the law.
“We don’t want to have activism on the bench in any way, shape or form,” Herbert said.
2. The Couple Married in October & Became Licensed Foster Parents
Beckie Peirce and April Hoagland, of Carbon County, were married in October 2014 and became licensed foster parents. They are also raising Peirce’s two children, ages 12 and 14, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.
They also plan to adopt the foster child, after her mother told the couple she wants them to raise her, according to the newspaper.
“He’s never been in our home, never spent time with the child in our home, so he doesn’t know anything about this,” Peirce told KUTV. Hoagland told the news station they are “shattered” by the judge’s ruling.
“We’ve been told to care for this child as a mother would,” Hoagland told the Washington Post. “And I am her mother. That’s who she knows, and she’s just going to be taken away.”
3. Johansen Has Been a Juvenile Court Judge Since 1992
He was an attorney in Emery County from 1979 until he became a judge. He graduated from Brigham Young University’s law school in 1977 and practiced with the law firm of Frandsen, Keller & Jensen in Price from 1977 to 1979.
Johansen was previously the city attorney for several municipalities in Carbon, Emery and Sanpete counties and is a former president of the Utah Association of Counties.
He was also a chair of the Board of Juvenile Court Judges, the Judicial Council’s Policy and Planning Committee and a member of the Sentencing Commission and Judicial Council.
Johansen is married and has children and grandchildren, according to his wife’s Facebook account. He and his wife, Laurel, a nurse, live in Castle Dale.
4. He Once Slapped a Child in His Courtroom & Ordered a Girl’s Hair Cut as a Punishment
Controversy is not a new thing for Johansen, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
He received a reprimand in 1995 from the Utah Judicial Conduct Commission after he slapped a 16-year-old boy who had become belligerent during a 1995 meeting at the courthouse in Price. The commission said he demeaned the judicial office with his behavior.
The boy had been brought to the courthouse by his father, who believed his son was stealing from him, according to a 1997 article in the Deseret News. Johansen agreed to talk to the boy. He said the teen became “belligerent and insulting,” and the judge knocked off the boy’s hat and then slapped him across the face.
Judge Scott Johansen agreed to the reprimand for “demeaning the judicial office.” He also agreed to have the reprimand, ordinarily secret, released to the public.Johansen admitted slapping the face of a 16-year-old boy after the boy’s father brought him to the courthouse in Price because he believed his son was stealing. The father, a friend of Johansen’s, asked the judge to talk to the teen.
“I knew immediately it was the wrong thing to do. This was just a friend of mine who brought his kid over,” the judge told the newspaper in 1995. “It was different than if I was acting with the authority of the state, but it was still not the right thing to do.”
He added it is difficult to wear two hats in a rural community where a judge is called on for help both officially and unofficially.
Johansen also faced criticism and negative media attention in 2012 after he ordered a woman to cut off her 13-year-old daughter’s ponytail as a punishment. The girl was in his courtroom after cutting the hair of a 3-year-old girl at a restaurant. He said he would take 150 hours of community service from the daughter’s sentence in exchange for the the hair cut.
He also sent a teen to juvenile detention for violating his probation by having a poor report card. The teen had been convicted for chewing gum, according to US News & World Report.
“Humiliation, Johansen must believe, is some kind of deterrent to crime. But, if that is his philosophy, he is at odds with child psychologists who say public embarrassment and degradation only foster feelings of hostility and rebellion in the young. A Utah law that allows judges to order incarceration for poor grades is counterproductive,” the Tribune said in an editorial in 2012.
A website called “Judge Scott Johansen is a Tyrant” was launched in 2007 by a person called “tyrantsmasher.” The blog has only two posts. In one post, the blogger wrote:
Scott Johansen is out of line. He hates homeschooling so much that when a school lost a mother’s paper stating she will be homeschooling her kids the judge ordered the mother to enroll her kids in school within 24 hours or go to jail and lose her kids. The mother now claims that she will probably go to jail anyway because this judge is determined to put her there.
To the visitors of this blog, do you know what happens to kids when the government takes them away? They put them in these institutions where they are surrounded by really bad kids who beat them up and torment them. It is like a jail. Government works in strange ways, huh?
Anyway, Judge Scott Johansen, you are a child abusing piece of sh*t with a bad mustache. We will work hard to ruin your career and your social life. Judges can only get away with so much tyranny– remember that judge who sued over his pants? Yeah, he lost his cushy job.
Burn in hell, your honor.
5. The Mormon Church Recently Banned Baptisms of Children of Same-Sex Couples
The Mormon church has recently adopted a new policy banning the baptism of same-sex couples and declaring married gay couples as apostates, according to the Washington Post.
It is not known if Johansen is a member of the Mormon church, but he lives in an area heavily populated by members of the church, and attended Brigham Young University. His wife has several posts on her Facebook page referencing the church.
In January, she posted a link to an article about church leaders calling for protection of both LGBT and religious rights, adding, “very well put.”
The article quotes church Elder Jeffrey Holland as saying about the topic, “”We must find ways to show respect for others whose beliefs, values, and behaviors differ from our own, while never being forced to deny or abandon our own beliefs, values, and behaviors in the process. Every citizen’s rights are best guarded when each person and group guards for others those rights they wish guarded for themselves.”