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Prison weddings to resume Monday

Prison weddings to resume Monday

March 23rd, 2013 in News

Unless there's a paperwork problem, several women who intended to marry Jefferson City Correctional Center inmates last Sept. 24 will be able to do so Monday - six months after their previous plans were blocked by state officials.

U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan ruled Thursday a Missouri law "requirement that marriage licenses be signed "in the presence of the recorder of deeds or their deputy' ... is unconstitutional as applied to situations where one or both applicants for a marriage license is incarcerated."

Nanci Gonder, Attorney General Chris Koster's spokeswoman, said Friday: "We will not appeal."

The American Civil Liberties Union for Eastern Missouri sued Corrections officials and Cole County Recorder of Deeds Larry Rademan last fall, after the inmates couldn't complete the marriage license applications required by state law.

State law requires people planning to get married to "present an application for the license, duly executed and signed in the presence of the recorder of deeds or their deputy."

But nothing in state law obligates the recorder "to go to the Department of Corrections and process these applications," said Michael Kuster, a Jefferson City lawyer who represented Rademan in the federal court case.

For years, Cole County Recorder Dave Newsam went to the state prisons in the county to get the applications from inmates, and Rademan continued that practice until last August.

Rademan has declined to discuss the situation since the lawsuit was filed last year, but authorized Kuster to talk with the News Tribune on Friday.

"He was permitted access to Algoa on the morning in question, but he'd been denied access to enter JCCC (the Jefferson City Correctional Center)," Kuster explained.

In its lawsuit, the ACLU had argued that prison officials last year implemented a new policy that mandated that those seeking access to JCCC, including Rademan, complete a form that requested personal information, including a Social Security number.

When Rademan refused to provide that number, the lawsuit said, he was denied access to JCCC and, therefore, was unable to get the required forms completed.

Kuster said Rademan really never got that far, because he was told he wouldn't be allowed into the prison - so he didn't go.

Kuster said Rademan also was concerned about safety issues at the prison.

Gaitan's order said the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment's "due process clause" protects the inmates' "fundamental right to marry," and "the statutory requirement that both fiancés execute and sign a marriage license in the presence of the recorder of deeds ... significantly interferes with plaintiffs' exercise of their fundamental right to marry their incarcerated fiancés."

So the judge ordered a new process, where Rademan provides the application form to the inmates.

"All the paperwork's the same," Kuster said. "The incarcerated individual has to fill out the application, but he doesn't have to do it in front of the recorder of deeds."

The warden or a designated prison representative will "verify that this person is incarcerated and then will verify the (inmate's) Social Security number," Kuster said.

The recorder of deeds still must verify the information state law requires to be on the form, before a license can be issued.

Gaitan's order affects only the Cole County recorder and the two state prisons in the county.

Kuster noted Missouri has other prisons - so some hope the end of Rademan's case can be used as a model for the recorders of deeds in the other counties where prisons operate.