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Court clerk marries employee after hours as “special favor”

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NEWKIRK, Okla. - The Kay County District Attorney will look into whether a court clerk broke the law by admittedly giving a “special favor” to one of her employees.

Court Clerk Marilee Thornton opened the county courthouse on Sunday, Nov. 1 so one of her deputy clerk’s could get married - a right she has not and does not plan to extend to the general public.

“I don’t find that it was that big of an issue to do a special favor for one of my clerks that work and work hard at their job,” Thornton said, when asked whether she gave her employee special treatment. “And, it was more convenient for my families, for her. We didn’t have time to get it scheduled during the week, and we did it.”

The Kay County Court Clerk’s Office grants marriage licenses during its normal business hours: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Arranging a marriage ceremony inside the courthouse is another matter.

They are exceptionally rare.

Thornton said she can’t recall the last time someone was married in the courtroom since she started in the office in 1998.

The primary reason why, Thornton said, is that the county and its judges are simply too busy with other matters to find time for marriage ceremonies.

“Between criminal dockets, civil dockets, divorce dockets, juvenile dockets we stay busy,” Thornton said.

Thornton said the county has already had 900 felony cases and more than 600 misdemeanor cases to put through the court system this year.

Any person can request a marriage in front of a judge in the courthouse, but Thornton said that’s dependent on a judge’s schedule for the day, which is often packed.

“With their schedules and the amount of cases they have to handle, they do less and less, but they have been known to [perform marriages],” she said.

Thornton said her office grants marriage licenses on Saturdays by appointment, though it may not be common knowledge.

“We do not advertise the fact that we would issue marriage licenses,” Thornton said. “Because my staff, like I said, work very hard, and they’re entitled to their time off just like anybody else.”

The clerk has no plans to open the courthouse to the general public on weekends for marriages, because she said she already spends two Saturdays a month catching up on work that didn’t get taken care of during the week, and her deputy clerks need time off.

“No one complains when my staff takes their Saturdays to come and do work and to get things caught up and to be ready for the next week,” Thornton said. “When they have to come in on a Saturday, I have to give them time off on another day and, with our schedules, we can’t. We cannot. It’s all we can do to get their vacation times in.”

But, although Thornton said she would not want to open the courthouse for marriages on weekends, she said she would open it again for an employee “in a heartbeat.”

“We spend more time with our fellow employees, a lot of times, than we do with our families,” she said. “I didn’t give a special favor to the public [by opening the courthouse], I gave a special favor to an employee of mine who has dedicated her life to being in this office and doing a great job, and I didn’t see a problem with it.”

Kay County Commissioner Vance Johnson said he was unaware of the Sunday marriage ceremony when he received a call from a NewsChannel 4 reporter Thursday afternoon.

He said he turned the information over to the district attorney to further investigate whether Thornton had done anything illegal.

NewsChannel 4 could not immediately reach the judge who presided over the marriage ceremony, Judge Jennifer Brock, for comment.

Voters elected Thornton to her current position in 2012.

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