Judge Scott Johansen of the Seventh District Juvenile Court declared in a two-page filing he’s disqualifying himself from the case and referring all pending matters to the presiding judge.
According to the order, the foster parents moved the court to disqualify the judge. Although the motion is considered invalid, the judge elected to recuse himself anyway.
Johansen invoked the ire of LGBT advocates — and even Democratic presidential candidates — for his order last week to remove a nine-month old child within seven days from the home of Rebecca Peirce and April Hoagland, a same-sex couple in Carbon County. As first reported by local CBS news affiliate KUTV, the judge said he was removing the child from the couple because they’re gay and believes children don’t do as well in same-sex households.
Later in the week, Johansen reversed his order for the time being, removing any requirement for removal until a hearing set for Dec. 4.
It’s unclear based on the order whether that hearing will still take place now that Johansen has recused himself.
Johansen, who received his law degree from Brigham Young University in 1977, has a history of unorthodox decisions, including offering a mother to chop off the ponytail of her delinquent girl to reduce the severity of her punishment.
The nation’s largest LGBT group, the Human Rights Campaign, filed a compliant with the Utah Judicial Conduct Commission as a result of the initial order from Johansen.
Sarah Warbelow, HRC’s legal director, said the complaint is ongoing even though Johansen has recused himself.
“Judge Johansen has come under wide criticism for a decision that has all the appearances of personal prejudice,” Warbelow said. “His decision to recuse himself is welcome, but it doesn’t change the fact he needlessly harmed this family which had already been found to be qualified by the State of Utah to adopt a child and could do the same to other families in the future. The Utah Judicial Conduct Commission should act quickly to investigate Judge Johansen’s actions and ensure that he does not put any other children at risk by issuing decisions based on personal bias.”