Jury's two cents: Penny fines for gay couple guilty of trespassing

Dominique James and Rev. Maurice ‘Bojangles' Blanchard
Dominique James and Rev. Maurice ‘Bojangles' Blanchard
Ted Shouse
Ted Shouse
Jessie Halladay
Jessie Halladay

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Dominique James insists that he and his partner, the Rev. Maurice 'Bojangles' Blanchard weren't grandstanding when they sat in the Jefferson County Clerk's office past closing, after being refused a marriage license.

"We just want the opportunity to stand up for the truth," said James. "What is right. Our equal rights."

Tuesday, his attorney told four women and two men that they, as a jury, had the "out" to find the couple not guilty of criminal trespass. That's because the County Clerk's office had destroyed the surveillance video that would have confirmed or disputed their account of the incident January 22.

"The bit about the lost tape is a red herring," Assistant County Attorney Matt Welch told jurors in closing arguments. "Don't fall for that please."

Rather, Welch continued, James' and Blanchard's own testimony convicts them. Under oath, both conceded they knowingly entered the clerk's office, aware that Kentucky voters had re-affirmed a ban on same sex unions in 2004. They also testified that they knew they had no permission to remain in the office past 5PM closing hours, and that security and police officers had warned them they were trespassing prior to their arrests.

"While it may be a worthy cause, the law doesn't speak to that," said Jessie Halladay, spokesperson for the Jefferson County Attorney's Office.

Blanchard and James refused prosecutors' offer to dismiss the charges if they'd each perform five hours' community service. They also rejected getting married in a state that recognizes same-sex unions, and then trying to persuade Kentucky to accord them legal standing.

"The point is, the work needs to be done here," said Blanchard. "This is our home.  This is where our church and families are. This is the place where it needs to happen."

After testimony that took two hours, jurors needed little more than 90 minutes to deliberate before finding both men guilty of criminal trespass. The men could have been ordered to pay $250. The jury decided each man would be fined just one penny.

"It's a victory," proclaimed Ted Shouse, Blanchard's attorney. "If they had given a significant fine, say a couple of hundred dollars, I think it would have shown a disapproval of Rev. Blanchard and Mr. James actions."

The couple will owe nothing. Jefferson District Judge Sheila Collins set aside the fines and dismissed the court costs as credit for time served.

"The guilty verdict shows that the law was correct," Halladay said. "The law doesn't determine what cause is worth breaking the law."

James calls the decision an endorsement for redoubling efforts to overturn Kentucky's ban.

"It gets our story out there, and puts two human bodies behind the legality of it," he said.

"I hope this doesn't sound rude," Blanchard said. "I didn't need their validation, but it feels good."

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