Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sign on the dotted line

Before we start thinking about wishing you discovered that your marriage document was forged think about how problematic it is that someone or even more than one person is going around forging Judge's signatures on documents.

Not a good thing.

Signature could make marriage a write-off
By Graeme Zielinski - Express-News

Someone is forging judges' signatures on nuptials documents, possibly putting dozens of marriages in Bexar County on shaky legal ground.
Being investigated are badly approximated signatures of at least two district judges that were placed on forms that waive the state's 72-hour waiting period to get married.

So far, there are more than 40 forged signatures of Joe Brown Jr., formerly judge of the 57th District Court, and at least one of 224th District Judge Gloria Saldaña, on waiver documents dating to 2007, said Richard “Buck” Buchanan, a Bexar County sheriff's detective.
A copy of one document shows Saldaña's name misspelled as “Saldaina.”

The questionable signatures were uncovered last summer. According to minister Louis Jensen, he was waiting for potential customers in the window of La Jalisco, a restaurant across from the Bexar County Courthouse, when he spied a young couple bound to be married.

Jensen, a former encyclopedia salesman who a few years back turned his trade to the marriage business, said he intuited their purpose.
The clues? An “aura” of love about them, the legal documents they bore in their hands — and probably the fact they looked headed to a rival wedding chapel.
Jensen approached the two and offered to marry them for $60 or more around the corner on the River Walk.

But there was a problem, he said: They hadn't waited the required 72 hours from the time they applied for their marriage license.

Like many states, Texas requires a waiting period before a wedding can be performed, but that can be waived by a judge who meets with the bride and groom and signs a waiver — the very kind of forms in question in this case.
On that Friday, just minutes before the courthouse's closing, there was no time to get the proper documentation.

The following Monday, Jensen said, he checked and found the couple had been married and with the help of a waiver bearing Brown's signature.

“Unless Joe Brown was sitting in his office, or this (groom) was Superman, how in hell could he get over here?” with the signed waiver, Jensen asked during an interview Wednesday.
Jensen said he dug some more and uncovered what he thought to be dozens more forgeries on waivers and took them to the county clerk's office, which handles marriage licensing, and eventually the matter was referred to investigators.
No one has been charged in the case.

Buchanan said his probe was in the preliminary stages. He said he's gathering information on the couples involved with the waivers and on who performed the marriages.
Former District Judge Brown said he wasn't sure how the forged waivers affect the validity of the marriages.

Mark Thompson, a family lawyer, said “if the participants didn't know the documents were forged, it would be difficult to call the marriage invalid.”
He did say, however, that the technicality of a forged waiver could be pressed in an annulment proceeding.

Buchanan said one judge thought the forged document could be grounds for the recently wedded to get annulments.
“Some of them might think it's a good idea,” he said.