Iowa Judge Won’t Annul Forged Wedding

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Joab Penney just wants to get on with his life. But the Florida man is wrapped up in so much legal red tape in Iowa, he can't.

"It has messed up my life a lot because I want to try to get married," Penny said. "I want to live my life. And I can't because it says I'm still legally married."

Back in 2012, Penney wanted to marry his partner, Joseph Parker.  But same-sex marriage was illegal in Florida at the time. He called the Grundy County, Iowa courthouse and the deputy court clerk agreed to marry the couple on Valentine's Day, even though neither of them had ever been to Iowa.

"She asked me to send her a copy of my ID and a couple weeks later I have a certificate saying I'm married," Penney recalled.

The problem is, in Iowa the couple and witnesses have to be present for the marriage to be valid. It turns out Deputy Court Clerk Brigitte Van Nice forged the signatures. She was convicted of forgery, but for some reason, the forged marriage document is still on record in Iowa as being valid.

"They found her guilty. The judge by law...the marriage never happened. The judge was supposed to have my marriage voided there. Then and there," Penney said. "But it never happened. So the past couple of years they've been giving me the runaround on getting a divorce."

This week, District Court Judge George Stigler dismissed Penney's case for an annulment and canceled his May court date, ruling "Both parties are residents of the state of Florida and, thus, neither has been a resident of the state of lowa for the required one-year period of time" required by law for an annaulment. In other words, Penney would have to live in Iowa for a year in order to get the marriage annulled

Coincidently, Judge Stigler also presided over Van Nice's case, so he knows she forged the documents. He said Penney and Parker are, quote "Trapped in a situation" and that he doesn't "Have a legal opinion on whether it was a legal marriage." Judge Stigler says his job was to rule on an annulment; not on whether the marriage was valid in the first place.

Penny says the judge should have thrown out the marriage and erased it from the books when Van Nice was convicted.

"They want me to file paperwork and file paperwork and file paperwork and I do and they set a time for me to call the court and when I call court with them over the phone they just say  'I can't help you.' Then what's the point of making me even waste my time?" Penney said. "I'm going to probably put a lawsuit against the state of Iowa. I mean there's a bunch of judges up there that just don't know what they're doing."

Penney says he may also try to hire a lawyer here in Iowa, but says he is running out of money fighting this fight.

Back when Van Nice was arrested, prosecutors decided not to file fraud charges against Penney and Parker because there was no evidence that they knew the marriage license was a forgery. An investigation showed the men believed they were legally married.

Just a side note adding insult to injury: Penney says he paid Van Nice $150 for the marriage license, and even though she was required by the court to pay reimbursements, Penney says he hasn't seen any money from her.

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