A couple who exchanged vows in Las Vegas in December 2008 had a change of heart and went to court for a divorce, only to have the judge rule the marriage wasn’t valid in the first place.
Newly elected Family Court Judge Bryce Duckworth presided over the wedding ceremony of Geanie and Kevin Bradford, fellow members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, four days after he took the oath of office.
But Sandra Pomrenze, the Family Court judge later assigned to the couple’s divorce case, determined Duckworth lacked the authority to solemnize the marriage because he conducted the ceremony before his term of office had begun.
Pomrenze dismissed the divorce case in June 2011.
A year later, and the day after Kevin Bradford’s marriage to another woman, Geanie Bradford challenged the ruling in an effort to have her marriage legally recognized.
On Thursday, the Nevada Supreme Court upheld the ruling while conceding Pomrenze “may have been in error.”
“Hopefully this will end the madness and we will have some closure on the case,” said James Davis, who represents Kevin Bradford.
The Supreme Court based its ruling on Geanie Bradford’s failure to appeal the dismissal order, or to seek any other relief, until a year later.
Geanie Bradford’s lawyers filed a petition with the Supreme Court on June 22, 2012. The petition sought an order directing Pomrenze to withdraw her ruling that the marriage was invalid.
“By taking this position, Judge Pomrenze dismissed the divorce, depriving Ms. Bradford of her interest in community property, a claim for potential alimony and leaving the parties’ child relegated to the status of ‘bastard,’ something which has unjustly stigmatized Ms. Bradford in her community,” according to the petition.
Davis said Geanie Bradford knew about Kevin Bradford’s marriage and pursued the petition “out of spite.”
Davis also said a heated custody battle ensued after Pomrenze dismissed the divorce case.
He said Kevin Bradford recently was granted primary physical custody of the couple’s 5-year-old daughter.
“He’s just hoping to co-parent with Geanie and move on,” Davis said.
In a response he filed with the Supreme Court, Davis argued that Geanie Bradford’s claim that she was stigmatized by having a child out of wedlock “is archaic.”
“Her position that such stigmatism is heightened in the Mormon community is disingenuous at best,” the lawyer wrote.
He also argued that granting Geanie Bradford’s petition “would only create a web of litigation that will take years to untangle.”
Geanie Bradford’s lawyers, Jennifer Abrams and Vincent Mayo, could not be reached for comment.
On Thursday, Duckworth said he recalled performing the marriage ceremony for the Bradfords.
“It happened to be a favor for a couple of friends,” the judge said.
Duckworth said he and the couple all believed at the time that he had the authority to perform the ceremony.
“Had there been any question or reservation whatsoever, we could have easily waited a couple of weeks,” the judge said.
The Supreme Court noted in its opinion that, under Nevada law, “a marriage performed by a person without actual authority to solemnize the marriage is nevertheless valid if both parties shared a good-faith belief that the person had the required authority.”
“It appears that the district court’s conclusion that Geanie and Kevin were never legally married may have been in error,” according to the opinion.
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court stated, “an incorrect legal conclusion does not render a judgment invalid or void.”
“We recognize that Geanie’s failure to timely appeal or move to set aside the district court’s order leaves her without legal recourse to challenge the district court’s conclusion,” according to the opinion.
The six-page decision was authored by Justice James Hardesty. Justices Kristina Pickering and Nancy Saitta concurred.
Duckworth said he performed no other marriage ceremonies before he took the bench in January 2009 and has performed only a couple of others since.
In the Review-Journal’s 2011 Judicial Performance Evaluation, Duckworth was the highest-rated Family Court judge. Of the Clark County lawyers who responded to the survey, 94 percent said he should be retained, while 54 percent thought Pomrenze should keep her seat.
Both Duckworth and Pomrenze are up for re-election next year.
Pomrenze prepared an affidavit in response to Geanie Bradford’s Supreme Court petition and explained her finding that Duckworth lacked the authority to solemnize the Bradfords’ marriage.
“The ceremony took place a few weeks before his term was to commence and, equally importantly, a few weeks before his department would actually exist,” Pomrenze wrote.
Duckworth was elected to the newly created seat in Department Q.
“At an on-the-record sidebar with counsel, I discussed this issue at length with the parties’ counsel and likened it to a governor-elect who, until his/her term commences, cannot yet act in the capacity of a governor to sign any order,” Pomrenze wrote.
Later during the hearing, according to the affidavit, the lawyer representing Kevin Bradford at the time advised Pomrenze that the parties knew, “at or before the time of the ceremony, that there was a question as to whether the judge-elect could celebrate their marriage legally.”
According to Geanie Bradford’s petition, Nevada law gives district judges the authority to solemnize wedding ceremonies and administer oaths, but it does not say when a judge acquires the authority to perform those acts.
In addition, according to the document, Pomrenze “simply concluded without taking evidence” that the Bradfords’ marriage was invalid.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-384-8710.