An East Texas couple says their choice to marry when they wanted to was taken away by a criminal court judge.
In July, a Smith County judge sentenced Josten Bundy to get married to his 19-year-old girlfriend as part of his probation, which also included writing Bible verses and getting counseling.
The court case stemmed from a February altercation between Bundy and the ex-boyfriend of his girlfriend, Elizabeth Jaynes.
“The ex-boyfriend had been saying disrespectful things about Elizabeth, so I challenged him to a fight,” said Bundy. “He stepped in and I felt like it was on and I hit him in the jaw twice.”Bundy said the ex-boyfriend did not require medical attention, but pressed assault charges.
“I took matters into my own hands and I know that’s wrong,” Bundy said. “I know I was raised better, but it happened.”At his sentencing hearing, Judge Randall Rogers asked Bundy about the fight.
“Is she worth it?” Judge Rogers asked Bundy, according to court transcripts.
“I said, well to be honest, sir, I was raised with four sisters and if any man was talking to a woman like that,” recalled Bundy, “I’d probably do the same thing.”Judge Rogers asked Bundy if he was married to Jaynes and then said, “You know, as a part of my probation, you’re going to have to marry her…within 30 days.”
If Bundy declined to do the probation, he would be sentenced to 15 days in jail.
“He offered me fifteen days in jail and that would have been fine and I asked if I could call my job to let them know,” said Bundy. “The judge told me ‘nope, that’s not how this works.’”Jaynes, who was in the courtroom said the proposal from the judge embarrassed her.
“My face was so red, people behind me were laughing,” said Jaynes. “The judge made me stand up in court.”
Afraid of Bundy losing his job if he spent two weeks behind bars, the couple applied for their marriage license and scheduled a date with the justice of the peace to get married.
“It just felt like we weren't going to be able to have the wedding we wanted,” said Jaynes. “It was just going to be kind of pieced together, I didn't even have a white dress.”The pair said a summer courthouse wedding was nothing like what they pictured when they imagined their future nuptials while they were dating.
“I used to watch Say Yes to the Dress and all those shows and all the dresses and think about what kind of dress I would have,” said Jaynes. “I would have liked a spring wedding when it’s not too hot and not too cold.”Bundy said they talked about getting married just six months after they started dating.
“We were strung over each other and really were in love,” Bundy said. “At our wedding I would have worn a black tux with some yellow under it because I’m a Steelers fan.”But with only 18 days to plan, even the people most important to them were missing.
"My father didn’t get to go, and that really bothers me, I know he would have liked to be there,” said Bundy. “None of my sisters got to show up, it was such short notice, I couldn’t get it together."
The father of the bride, Kenneth Jaynes, wanted answers.
“I felt anger; I was mad. The judge can’t do this by court ordering somebody to be married,” said Kenneth Jaynes. “I contacted a couple of lawyers but they told me someone was trying to pull my leg…that judges don't court order somebody to get married.”Judge Rogers declined to interview about an open probation case. He also declined to comment generally about his sentencing practices.
Attorney Blake Bailey, who practices constitutional law, said an order to marry is not legal.
“To say you're not going to be criminally punished if you get married is way out of left field,” said Bailey. “It sounds like the old days of shotgun weddings, but not even the judge is capable of enforcing, what he thinks is best for some people in his court.”Bundy and Jaynes say they do not at all regret getting married, but they do regret not being able to plan or have control over their special day.
“What if we had said to the judge we don't want to get married right now and we're not ready?” said Jaynes. “Is he going to go to jail? It scared us, a little bit.”Attorney Bailey said the sentence would have likely been struck down on appeal to a higher court.
Bundy and Jaynes plan to have a larger wedding in the future when they can save enough money.