IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A rural Iowa court official filed false documents to say she had married a same-sex couple from Florida, even though she never met the men and they had not traveled to the state for a ceremony, investigators said Thursday.
Grundy County Deputy Clerk of Court Brigitte Van Nice was arrested at work Wednesday and charged with two counts of forgery and one count of perjury, all felonies. Van Nice, 42, posted bond and was released from jail pending a court appearance scheduled for next week.
The arrest is believed to be the first of its kind in Iowa, one of six states that allow gay marriage, said Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Larry Hedlund.
Defense Attorney Robert Thompson said Van Nice planned to plead not guilty.
"It's kind of an interesting case," Thompson said. "Certainly a case of first impression."
Investigators discovered the invalid certificate after one of the men contacted an attorney in Florida about getting a divorce, Hedlund said.
Prosecutor Jennifer Miller said charges will not be filed against the men, who believed they had been legally married.
"We determined that they basically were the ones that were duped," Miller said. "I don't think they were trying to fraudulently obtain a marriage license. They were told it was fine for them to not be in the state when they got married. I don't think they realized it was not going to be a valid marriage."
Jennifer Pizer, a same-sex marriage expert and former legal director of the Williams Institute at UCLA, called the arrest "quite unusual" and said she had not heard of anything similar elsewhere.
Van Nice became ordained to perform marriages last year through a website. The men started corresponding with her after searching the Internet for Iowa counties where they might obtain a license, Miller said.
In February, she filed a marriage certificate at the county recorder's office claiming she had officiated the couple's wedding on Valentine's Day and that two women had witnessed the ceremony, according to a criminal complaint.
Van Nice told staff in the recorder's office — located in Grundy Center, population 2,700 — that she had met the men at a Waterloo truck stop the day before and they lined up the witnesses, the complaint says. Investigators later determined that the ceremony did not take place and that Van Nice had faked the signatures of the phony witnesses without their permission, it says.
She was paid $150 for her work.
The complaint identifies the Florida men by name but does not give their hometowns or ages. Attempts to reach them were not immediately successful.
Van Nice officiated one other same-sex marriage in Iowa but it was valid, Hedlund said.
She has been placed on paid administrative leave.
One Iowa, the state's leading gay rights group, said in a statement that Van Nice "must be held accountable" if she's found guilty.