BRATTLEBORO—The Vermont State Police has opened an investigation into a potentially fraudulent marriage license signed by a Brattleboro Justice of the Peace who did not officiate the ceremony.
Mary Cain, also a Democratic candidate for State Senate, signed a marriage license on May 4, 2012 for a wedding that ostensibly occurred on Oct. 31, 2010.
But in a document addressed to Dummerston Town Clerk Pam McFadden, Cain stated that she did not officiate at the wedding of Michael Martin and Jennifer Dusenbery.
Under Vermont statute, a marriage license is not valid unless signed by the officiant who performed the ceremony.
Cain, also a Brattleboro Town Meeting member, is challenging incumbents Jeannette White of Putney and Peter Galbraith of Townshend in the state Democratic primary.
Martin died of gunshot wounds in a workplace shooting at the Brattleboro Food Co-op last year. Dusenbery has said the couple were married in 2010.
Calls to State Police Det. Tyson Kinney of the State Police Barracks in Brattleboro, who, The Commons has learned, is heading the investigation, were not returned by press time.
Windham County State’s Attorney Tracy Shriver said she could “not comment on ongoing investigations.”
According to Cain’s letter to McFadden recounting the events of May 4, Dusenbery asked Cain to notarize the marriage license.
Cain explained that “Jennifer [Dusenbery] said that she had spoken to the Town Clerk of Dummerston, Pam [McFadden,] and that she had suggested she find a notary to verify that information. I am a new notary and I have never notorized [sic] anything,” continued Cain.
Cain wrote a letter to McFadden in response to the Dummerston Town Attorney’s request for an affidavit about the wedding. In the letter, Cain said Dusenbery had told her that, according to McFadden, notarizing the license was a “formality.”
Cain also said Dusenbery told her that she would return the notarized license to the Town Clerk.
Cain filled in the section of the marriage license reserved for the officiant to certify that the people listed on the license were married on the date specified. Under “title,” the word “Justice” is written in what appears to be Cain’s handwriting.
Dusenbery did not respond to a request for an interview.
Cain questioned this protocol in her account. “Genreaally [sic] I told her that I am required to return the license to the Town Clerk as I have done in over 60 marriages.”
“If there was confusion it was on my part in misunderstanding that this was not the case and that the Town Clerk may not have directed Jennifer to do this,” wrote Cain. “As a notary, I believed that this was in fact the information having worked with Jennifer in the past.”
Vermont marriage licenses do not have to be notarized, and the license contains no space for a notary’s certificate.
The Dummerston Town Clerk disputes Cain’s account.
“There’s no way I would have ever said [to Dusenbery] ‘find a notary,’” McFadden said. “You cannot notarize that a marriage took place.”
According to “Completing the Civil Marriage Certificate: Guidelines for Officiants,” a 2009 document on the Vermont Department of Health Vital Records Unit’s website, “The law requires that the officiant return the certificate to the clerk within 10 days so the marriage can be legally registered.”
“Do not give the completed certificate to the couple,” the document says in boldface type, a warning repeated on a second checklist page.
When reached by phone, Cain responded that an interview would be “highly unlikely.”
When asked for her side of the story, Cain said she’d think about it and call back if she was interested, but by press time she had not done so. A second invitation emailed to Cain, with interview questions, was not returned by press time.
A matter of semantics
Cain has also taken heat for language in some of her campaign materials. An early version of her campaign website used a headline describing her as a Windham County Senator. That description was later changed. She has also billed herself as “an award-winning justice of the peace.”
Cain concedes that no awards exist for justices of the peace, but explained this as “semantics.”
Cain said that she has won numerous awards since the 1970s, including a recipe contest. She said she is also a justice of the peace, making her an “award-winning justice of the peace.”
According to Kathy Scheele, director of elections and campaign finance for the Vermont Secretary of State, the office had no enforcement authority regarding Cain’s actions.
Cain is employed by The Commons as a part-time advertising sales representative. When she announced her candidacy, she was placed on administrative leave per newspaper policy governing employees campaigning for office.
A license without a signature
Having the certificate signed by Cain, and not by an officiant who performed the ceremony, could render the marriage invalid.
Further complicating the issue, a woman in New York state claims to be Martin’s fifth wife and said the two never divorced.
McFadden, the Dummerston town clerk, said about the couple’s license: “All I know is it’s in limbo right now.”
McFadden said she never would have sent the license to the state if she’d known Cain was not the true officiant.
“She should have known better,” said McFadden of Cain’s action.
“If you’re a JP, you know what your job is as an officiant of a wedding. When people ask about getting married, I take them from the very beginning to the very end [of the process], because this is not something to take lightly.”
Dusenbery contacted McFadden on April 27 asking if the marriage license on record was valid. McFadden had no license on file.
Later that day, Dusenbery presented to McFadden her original license, which lacked the officiant’s signature.
McFadden told Dusenbery the license was not valid without such a signature, though Dusenbery assured the town clerk that the marriage happened.
McFadden sought advice from the Vermont Department of Health’s Vital Records Division, the department in charge of documents like marriage licenses, death certificates, and birth certificates.
According to McFadden, the state agency said that Dusenbery needed to track down the officiant who performed the ceremony, have this person sign the license, and return the document to McFadden, who would then file a copy with the state.
According to written notes that McFadden prepared for the town attorney, and which she released to The Commons, Dusenbery returned the license, with Cain’s signature as the officiant, by May 4, and McFadden sent the state a copy.
McFadden also said that her assistant, Laurie Frechette, who also serves as town treasurer, recalled that a woman who said she was Martin’s daughter called the office in November 2011 asking if there was a marriage license on file for Martin and Dusenbery.
Frechette remembered telling the woman there was no license on record.
On May 4, according to McFadden’s notes, Dusenbery requested two informational copies of the marriage license, one for herself and one for Cain.
Dusenbery also asked for two certified copies of the license and three certified copies of Martin’s death record. McFadden said she also gave Dusenbery an additional certified copy of the license because she remembered Dusenbery paying for one back in October 2010.
On May 7, however, McFadden learned that Cain had not performed the wedding ceremony. After learning that the town attorney wanted the officiant — at that point, presumed to be her — to sign an affidavit about Martin and Dusenbery’s wedding, Cain contacted Brattleboro Town Clerk Annette Cappy.
McFadden said that since Cain holds an elected position as a justice of the peace, she can’t be fired. She could choose to step down, or the voters could choose not to re-elect her.
“It’s an enormous bag of worms,” said McFadden.
According to McFadden, with the copies of death and marriage certificates that Dusenbery has, she could file for claims on Martin’s estate.
Cain was appointed to the position of justice of the peace to fill the rest of another’s term, from September 2010 to Feb. 1, 2011.
In March 2011, she ran and was elected as justice of the peace.
Once signed, the marriage is official. A marriage lacking a signed license is null.
If an officiant signs a license for a couple and falsely claims to have performed the ceremony, Brattleboro Town Clerk Annette Cappy said the act might be considered “fraudulant.” In Cappy’s opinion, such a marriage would not be legally valid.
Sometimes marriage licenses don’t make their way back to the clerk’s office within 10 days, according to Cappy, who contacts the couple in those circumstances. Often, the couple has decided not to marry, she said; sometimes the officiant has forgotten to return the license.
Anyone, she said, can perform a ceremony, provided they are members of a group that has recognized authority: clergy, justices of the peace, and judges. Anyone with such credentials from outside Vermont can perform a marriage ceremony in the state provided they receive authorization through the probate court first.
Lay people can also perform wedding ceremonies provided they receive authorization, good for one day, from the Secretary of State’s office.
What remains key to the legality of a marriage certificate in Vermont, said Cappy, is that the officiant swears that he or she married a specific couple on a specific day.