A June 4 Texas Attorney General opinion found that Family Code §2.202(a)(4) does not authorize a retired federal judge to conduct a marriage ceremony in Texas. The Bowie County Criminal District Attorney had sent in that request for an opinion on behalf of retired U.S. District Judge David Folsom, who, out of "an abundance of caution," had refrained from presiding over his wife’s goddaughter’s wedding after leaving the bench.
The AG opinion also caused Baylor University President Ken Starr, who’s a retired justice of the D.C. U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, to think twice before performing a wedding on the Baylor campus last month.
So, “just to be sure,” Senior U.S. District Judge Thad Heartfield of Beaumont says, Jefferson County Criminal District Attorney Tom Maness on Aug. 30 sent the AG an opinion request on Heartfield’s behalf, seeking to clarify whether senior federal judges can perform weddings, should anyone ask them.
Heartfield, who took senior status in 2010 and still hears cases, says there is a question as to whether his senior status makes him a “retired” judge for §2.202(a)(4)’s purposes.
“It’s just a little bit foggy, and I wanted to be clear about it because I don’t know senior judges who are in the marrying business,” Heartfield says.
He says no couples’ pending nuptials are riding on this opinion request.
“I haven’t performed but five marriages in 17 years,” while an active judge, Heartfield says. “But we don’t’ traditionally have a big flow of marriage ceremonies. It’s just close friends.”
-- John Council