Utah judge removes himself from gay foster parent case

April Hoagland, left, and Beckie Peirce smile during a press conference Friday. The judge in the case, who had ordered a foster child removed from the lesbian couple, withdrew from the case Monday. (Chris Detrick/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

Salt Lake City (AP) — A Utah judge who had ordered a baby girl taken away from her lesbian foster parents and placed with a heterosexual couple has removed himself from the case as criticism mounted into calls for his impeachment.

Judge Scott Johansen reversed his order last week to remove the 9-month-old baby from the home of April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce and allowed the girl to stay with the married couple. But there were concerns he could still have the baby removed from their home in Price, about 120 miles south of Salt Lake City, during a custody hearing set for Dec. 4.

The couple asked that the judge be disqualified. In an order released Monday, Johansen wrote that while the couple do not have legal standing, he is nevertheless stepping aside.

In his initial decision, Johansen mentioned research showing children do better when raised by heterosexual families. The American Psychological Association, however, has said there's no scientific basis for believing that gays and lesbians are unfit parents based on sexual orientation.

He removed himself from the case after widespread criticism from national gay rights groups, the Republican governor and others. A gay rights group has filed a complaint with state judicial officials, and the Alliance for a Better Utah, a watchdog group, called on Monday for state lawmakers to impeach the judge.

Johansen is barred from speaking about pending cases and a call to his publicly listed phone number went unanswered Monday.

Johansen, who has been a state judge since 1992, has had previous questions about his conduct. He was given a reprimand from the Utah Judicial Conduct Commission after he slapped a 16-year-old boy who allegedly became belligerent and insulting in his chambers in 1995.

Three years ago, a woman filed a complaint against the judge after he told her to cut off her 13-year-old daughter's ponytail in court in order to reduce the girl's sentence for cutting off a 3-year-old girl's hair.

"This guy now has a pattern of doing these kinds of outrageous things," said Josh Kanter, founder of the progressive-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah.

The Human Rights Campaign has also filed a complaint with the Judicial Conduct Commission, which can recommend a judge's removal. That group alleged Johansen discriminated against the couple based on sexual orientation and called for a quick decision ahead of the custody hearing next month.

By Lindsay Whitehurst, Associated Press. Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Gayly – November 16, 2015 @ 4:35 p.m.