Ex-Iowa Official Guilty in Gay Marriage Fraud Case
A former rural Iowa court official pleaded guilty Monday to forgery for filing false documents to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple from central Florida, in the first case of its kind in Iowa.
Former Grundy County deputy clerk Brigitte Van Nice, 42, received a fine and a suspended sentence after entering the guilty pleas to perjury and forgery charges at the courthouse in Grundy Center, where she used to work.
The resolution drew criticism from Joab Penney of Williston, Fla., who says Van Nice’s actions duped him out of $150 and gave him an unending legal headache. Penney said he was outraged when court officials advised him Monday he should hire an attorney to petition to void his marriage license - which he said should have never been issued in the first place.
"They found her guilty, but what I wanted - to have my marriage voided - didn’t happen," he told The Associated Press. "Now I’m going to have to pay for voiding something that never even happened."
Referring to the sentence issued by Judge Bradley Harris, he said: "That’s really light. That’s a legal document. If that was me or you, we would be going to prison, wouldn’t we?"
Van Nice was arrested and suspended from her job in October after investigators discovered that she issued a license last year to Penney and his then-boyfriend Joseph Parker, who had never set foot in Iowa. She was later fired for violating judicial branch policies, court administrator Linda Nilges said.
Penney and Parker contacted Van Nice’s office randomly when inquiring about how to get a license, which they could not get in Florida, where same-sex marriage is outlawed. Iowa allows same-sex marriage for couples who come to the state for a ceremony witnessed by two people.
Prosecutors say Van Nice issued them a license after she filed documents falsely claiming she had officiated a Valentine’s Day wedding for the couple and faked two witness signatures. Van Nice falsely told colleagues that she had met the men at a Waterloo truck stop, where they asked her to officiate and had lined up the witnesses.