Unless you’ve attended a Quorum Court meeting some Tuesday night, marrying might be the first thing on your mind when you hear the words "justice of the peace." It is, after all, the classic job of the JP in film and fiction: hitching young lovers who were too antsy, or too broke, to wait for the full church-and-cake treatment. It’s ironic, then, that one of the most recent spots of Tuesday night tumult has to do with just that topic: How many marriages are too many for one JP?
At the center of that debate is District 3 Justice Kathy Lewison. Lewison has seen more than her share of press during this election for shepherding couples onto the path of wedded bliss. A LOT of couples. After a story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette pointed out the number of weddings Lewison had officiated (around 70 in the two months prior), Republican JP Jim Porter fielded a measure that would have prohibited JPs from "lingering" in the Pulaski County courthouse looking for couples to marry, a measure that eventually died in committee.
To her credit, Lewison is hesitant to talk much on the record about the controversy, other than to say the Quorum Court has better things to argue about. A self-proclaimed moderate Democrat who says her number one issue is using the using the court’s resources to make the streets safer, Lewison calls the controversy politically motivated — an election-year play for the West Little Rock-based JP position she currently holds. Pressed on the point, she is able to produce a few pretty good explanations for all those weddings, none of which includes a penchant for lurking in the courthouse with a Bible under her arm. She is, as she points out, third on the list given to newly-licensed couples who request the phone number of a JP. The two JPs in front of her rarely perform marriages, she said, and while she never "solicits," she also never turns anyone down. When she goes to the courthouse for a wedding, she is often approached by other just-licensed couples anxious to get married. Furthermore, through her efforts to keep the home fires burning for deployed troops — gathering up care package goodies, having strangers sign cards of support, keeping current a prayer board for GIs at her church — she said her name has spread far and wide among soldiers looking to wed before shipping out. From there, she said, it just mushroomed.
Though Lewison said her weddings never cut into the performance of her official duties as JP, she admits she gets quite a bit of happiness out of helping couples, especially those who can’t afford a church wedding.
James M. "Jim" Brown Jr. is Lewison’s Republican opponent in the upcoming election. A building contractor and first time political candidate, Brown said that while he read the newspaper articles about Lewison’s marriage tally and the subsequent Quorum Court proposal against her, he doesn’t see anything wrong with her marrying people (though those working to toss Lewison surely do). Like his opponent, Brown thinks the court has bigger fish to fry, though he acknowledges he isn’t as "up to speed as I should be," about the issues facing the county. If elected he said he would be mainly interested in the responsible use of county tax dollars, and possibly seeing the court hold an open discussion on ethics.
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