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Clerks enjoy power vested in them

February 14, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

They laugh, they cry, they stumble over their vows.

The bridge and groom may say little besides "I do."

Within minutes, they walk away married.

Nothing frilly, nothing deep.

About 25 employees at the Washington County Courthouse can perform instant civil ceremonies, Circuit Court Clerk Dennis Weaver said. Five or so employees who process marriage licenses preside most of the time.

But sometimes couples come to the courthouse in waves - a weekday Valentine's Day is the best example - and other deputy clerks step in to help.

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Laura Horning, who works in the criminal department, is one. She hasn't tracked how many couples she's married in her 10 years working for the county, but a few have stood out. One bride giggled incessantly. One groom wanted to be called "Bubba."

Horning performed the ceremony for her brother-in-law and his bride.

And she married Gina Cirincion, a prosecutor, to defense attorney Jerry Joyce, a former prosecutor, before a crowd packed into and spilling out of the wedding vow room.

It was a rainy day with distinctive numbers - 9/6/96 - Joyce recalled.

He said the appeal of a quick, simple ceremony and a history of positive experiences at the courthouse led him and his wife to marry there.

Horning, 35, knows the other side, too. She and her husband, Jeff, 38, were married in a civil ceremony at the courthouse on Feb. 24, 2000.

Since it was Laura's second marriage and Jeff's third, and they have seven children between them, they weren't interested in anything elaborate, she said.

Couples have reasons for wanting low-key courthouse marriages, clerks who marry them say. Spouses have been married before. They don't have much money. They want a small and secret wedding.

About three years ago, a man married in a civil ceremony at the courthouse later was charged with bigamy. His first marriage still technically was intact, according to court records.

Horning said clerks won't marry anyone too young - 15 is the minimum age, by law - or suspected of being a runaway.

Patti Allen, 43, a deputy clerk in the criminal department for 20 years, had a shocking experience with one wedding.

She married Jeffrey Whittington and Missy Praetz in 1993. Three weeks later, Whittington strangled Praetz to death as they argued.

He later confessed to driving the car into a tree and lighting the interior on fire to make the death look accidental, court records said. He was convicted of second-degree murder.

Allen was a clerk at Whittington's murder trial, as well.

Another criminal department deputy clerk, Linda Dorrier, 56, said that as she officiated one wedding, the bride's water broke. The ceremony went on, but at a quick pace.

The bride got to the hospital in time to deliver the baby there, Dorrier said.

Most snags are much smaller. Someone forgot the ring. The groom says "awful wedded wife" instead of "lawful wedded wife."

Clerks said they enjoy the peculiar, fun power vested in them - a change of pace from a steady stream of criminal files, warrants and dockets.

"Sometimes, there are (couples) that look really in love," Allen said. "It's kinda cool, actually, to marry people."

"You know what - I get just as emotional as they do," Dorrier said.

"She'll come back and her eyes are red," Horning said.

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