By Paul Carter
David Leavitt: Bigamy Buster
PROVO, UTAH -- David Leavitt has done something which hasn't been done in
almost 50 years. As Juab County Attorney, Mr. Leavitt convinced a jury last
month to convict a polygamist, Tom Green, for his marriages to multiple wives.
Mr. Leavitt actually obtained convictions on a charge against Mr. Green of
bigamy, being married to two women, and charges of abusing the welfare system
by obtaining benefits inappropriately for his 25 children from five wives.
It was a novel and direct legal attack on a practice among what the LA Times
estimates to be about 30,000 in Utah and surrounding states. Both sides in
the court action believe that this prosecution could be the basis for future
cases in other counties.
The case and its outcome have been the subjects for newspaper editorials
across the country, even internationally, as well as television talk shows.
It was Tom Green's willingness to appear on television with his wives that
provided much of the evidence that convicted him. David Leavitt determined
that the case had to be taken and pursued, even in the face of personal
threats and a long-standing belief among many in the legal profession that a
case against a polygamist couldn't be won.
"I became firmly convinced that this was a guy who had to go down because of
what he was doing under the name of religion," says Leavitt. "I saw a man who
was seriously hurting people -- marrying 13- and 14-year-old girls and sucking
the welfare system dry."
Interestingly, before he was the County prosecutor, Attorney Leavitt was a
public defender who, in 1993, represented a polygamist. His defense then was
based on First Amendment rights and religious freedom. Charges against his
client were dropped before trial started.
While pursuing the conviction of Tom Green, Leavitt received death threats.
He describes one. "One man was leaving me voice mails that said unless I
ceased the Tom Green prosecution, he'd formalize the ritual of sending me to
Mr. Leavitt told his wife of the threats, but they did not let their five
children know. County Sheriff's Deputies provided additional security for
the family. In addition, David Leavitt says that under these circumstances,
"there's a benefit to being the governor's (Governor Mike Leavitt) little
brother. He saw to it the state patrol was watching out for me."
In light of such threats, the stand by the Juab County Prosecutor has been
called "courageous" by Doug White who is an attorney for "Tapestry Against
Polygamy", a rescue and education group seeking to help women avoid and leave
Mr. White believes the successful case by David Leavitt to be extremely
important. He has gone on the record as saying, "Many older men in
polygamist communities have stopped pursuing marrying young girls because
they simply don't want to be put through the kind of scrutiny and litigation
that Tom Green went through,"
The Attorney General for Utah, Mark L. Shurtleff, suggests that this case
will provide a roadmap for future cases against polygamists. "David spent
months delving into every issue, every document, to make sure every loophole
was closed. And he sent a message to other prosecutors, in a groundbreaking
way, to go forward and prosecute similar cases."
Finally, in a brief review of his experience in the case, David Leavitt
states, "As a small town prosecutor, I am a changed man. I realize one person
can really change the world in some small way. Because of what I did, some
people love me, some people hate me. But I'd do it all over again."
Prosecutor Now Sees Other Side of Bigamy
Los Angeles Times 27May01 P2
By Tom Gorman: Times Staff Writer
Utah: David Leavitt, in Green case, cited fraud. But he once defended the
practice as religious right.