Is It Ethical for the Sentencing Judge to Perform a Marriage Service for the Defendant?

Over at Doug Berman's sentencing blog, there is this interesting discussion about whether asking the sentencing judge to perform a wedding service could be a sneaky sentencing ploy.

Berman quotes a Washington Post article as follows:

A former State Department officer has a proposal for U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee: Before the judge sentences him on child pornography charges, he wants Lee to perform his wedding ceremony. Lee is considering the highly unusual request, under which Gons Gutierrez Nachman, 42, would tie the knot with his 21-year-old Brazilian fiancee in the same Alexandria federal courtroom where he admitted having sex with three underage girls while posted overseas.

Prosecutors are not forever holding their peace. "The government objects," they wrote the judge Wednesday. "The defendant's request, in the government's view, attempts to shift the focus away from the very serious criminal offenses for which he will be sentenced."...

Legal ethicists said the judge should have strenuously objected. "It would show very poor judgment for the court to perform this ceremony or even to entertain the possibility," said Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University. "He should have shot this down as soon as they asked. He's not there to perform weddings; he's there to send a man to jail." "I suspect that in 232 years of American history," Gillers added, "it's never happened that a [federal] judge has performed a marriage ceremony for a defendant awaiting sentencing in a serious felony case in his own court."

Professor Gillers is a very well-known legal ethicist. That what makes me reluctant to disclose that, in about 2004, as a federal judge, I performed a wedding service for a young defendant after I sentenced him for being a felon in possession of a firearm. As I recall, I consulted with the prosecution and court security staff to ensure that no one objected. The bride then came to court in her wedding gown, along with family and friends, and I performed the service. The bride and groom then kissed, and the marshals then took the defendant back to begin serving his (roughly) 18 month prison term.

I thought it was important to honor the request for the defendant for the service because I thought it would improve his prospects for rehabilitation if he knew he had lovely wife willing to wait for him. Perhaps it would have seemed like more of a "ploy" if the defendant was facing an extremely long prison terms, as child pornographers typically are.

I think we can leave this issue (like many others) to the sound discretion of trial court judges.