Should Iowa judges and magistrates be allowed to advertise their availability to perform wedding ceremonies for a fee?
Yes, but only if judges carefully avoid the appearance of using a public position to line their own pockets, the Iowa Supreme Court has ruled.
"If a judicial officer is legally authorized to perform off-hours weddings for a reasonable fee because he or she is a judicial officer, how does it amount to an abuse of the office for the officer to let the public know that," Justice Edward Mansfield wrote in the unanimous 15-page ruling.
That logic drew sharp criticism from Justice Bruce Zagar, who wrote his own special concurrence calling for a flat-out ban on such advertising. Though judges are certainly allowed to perform marriages, allowing advertising "smacks of the unseemly creation of a cottage industry" that could be exploited, he wrote.
Instead, Zagar argued that Iowa should adopt a 2007 rule written by the Colorado Judicial Ethics Advisory Board that banned judges there from sending fliers to wedding planners or doing any other advertising of their services. The Colorado rule limited any advertisement to simply listing a judge's name on a taxpayer-supported public website.
"Do we really want our judicial officers advertising for wedding services on the Internet or through the yellow pages," Zagar wrote.
The Friday ruling required the state's seven justices to consider whether part-time Johnson County Magistrate James Martinek violated the state's judicial conduct code by advertising his willingness to perform wedding ceremonies on the website set up for his private law practice. Under Iowa law, judges and magistrates can charge a "reasonable fee" to perform wedding ceremonies outside of their regular working hours.
But the judicial conduct code requires that judges "act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. They are barred from any activities that "abuse the prestige of judicial office" for their own financial gain.
Martinek, a Solon-based attorney who became a magistrate in 2005, included tabs on his practice's website that featured details on wedding ceremonies, including his fees, sample vows and information for couples on obtaining a marriage license, according to the ruling. He began advertising his services for weddings online largely due to the high demand for same-sex ceremonies that followed a landmark 2009 state supreme court ruling that made gay marriage legal in Iowa.
The website also included one photo of Martinek performing a same-sex marriage wearing his judicial robes. Martinek removed the photo and reported himself to the state Commission on Judicial Qualifications after the court disciplined another magistrate in 2013 who promoted his services as a private attorney through a phone book advertisement featuring himself in his judicial robes. Justices ruled in that case that the magistrate was trying to use the stature of his judicial position to influence potential clients.
In the ruling, Mansfield wrote that there's nothing wrong with allowing judges and magistrates to advertise their availability for weddings online. "We believe the public benefits when people can find out, relatively quickly and easily from the Internet, which judicial officers are willing to perform weddings outside regular business hours and under what conditions," he wrote.
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However, any advertising for weddings should be done separately from a magistrate's private law firm page to avoid the appearance of impropriety, Mansfield wrote. Additionally, Martinek violated the judicial ethics code because his advertisements did not inform couples that he could perform wedding services for free during regular business hours at the courthouse.
The magistrate told officials during the investigation into his advertising that he always told couples about the option to get married for free at the courthouse, Mansfield noted. He charged $200 for performing weddings at other sites outside of the courthouse, estimating that he made around $2,000 yearly from the ceremonies.
Martinek was first licensed to practice law in Iowa in 1978. He did not immediately return a reporter's phone call Monday morning.
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While the supreme court found Martinek violated ethics rules, no discipline was handed out because he resigned from his position as a magistrate in February. The justices still chose to issue a ruling in the case to provide guidance to judges across the state, Mansfield wrote.