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Judges Say ‘I Won’t’ to Inmate Nuptials

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Many people get married because they find themselves prisoners of love.

But what do you do if you’re a prisoner in love and want to get married?

That’s the situation facing singer Rick James and his girlfriend, Tanya Anne Hijazi, who want to get married today before they are sent to prison for beating up a woman at a tony West Hollywood hotel.

To accommodate the couple, a judge scheduled James’ sentencing and delayed Hijazi’s reporting day for prison until today. Hijazi, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to four years last month, and James, who was convicted by a jury, could be sentenced to up to nine years. James’ lawyer said arrangements have been made for the ceremony to take place.

But like an increasing number of his colleagues, San Fernando Superior Court Judge Michael R. Hoff declined to perform the marriage.

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Hoff, who presided over the criminal cases against James and Hijazi and declined to discuss the case, said he no longer performs courtroom marriages because he questions the motivation of criminal defendants who wait until the last minute to tie the knot.

“In court, it just really seems to be a farce to wish them well as one of them walks through the door” back to jail, said Hoff, who has performed courtroom marriages in the past, but only in cases where it made custody of a child easier.

Supervising Superior Court Judge Judith Meisels Ashmann agreed.

“As a general rule, I don’t think it is a good thing for a judge to get involved with criminal defendants,” said Ashmann.

Ashmann said she performed one courtroom wedding many years ago when she was a municipal judge, but considered that a special circumstance because the defendant was eight months pregnant and she wanted to make it easier for the father to get custody of the child when it was born.

In contrast, Van Nuys Municipal Judge Michael S. Luros said a courtroom marriage can help bring stability to a person’s life and can motivate someone to straighten out his or her life, especially if the spouse is not in jail.

“Knowing that they have someone waiting for them outside can give them added incentive to change their ways,” Luros said.

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He also has fun with weddings, noting that just before marrying a defendant he had sentenced to three years in prison, he asked him whether he really wanted to go forward with a “life sentence.”

A veteran of 20 courtroom marriage ceremonies, San Fernando Superior Court Judge Meredith Taylor has agreed to marry a defendant who is about to be sent to prison for three years on a drug-related charge.

But for James, a Grammy-award-winning singer and producer, there was a note of uncertainty Thursday.

Sgt. Randy Sulstrom, who supervises court bailiffs in San Fernando, cited safety concerns in stating that his deputies would not allow James’ marriage Friday unless they were specifically ordered to by the judge.

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