The Flathead Valley’s Leading Independent Journal of Observation, Analysis, & Opinion. © James R. Conner.


18 June 2012


Col. James H. Johnson III (from Military Corruption). Perhaps Telly Sevalas can be exhumed to star in the movie. Mr. Clean would be miscast.

Bigamy by double proxy marriage —
only in Montana, blessed in the Flathead

Unwittingly blessed, to be sure, but that’s what seems to have happened (skip to Flathead Connection). The 14 June 2012 Stars and Stripes reports that Col. James H. Johnson III, son of a Lt. General, and an “…honor graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, “ was convicted of fraud, bigamy, and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and sentenced…to a reprimand and a $300,000 fine” after a court-martial in Kaiserslautern, Germany:

He [was] charged with six violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and 27 specifications or counts, including bigamy, adultery, fraud, forgery and making false statements, all in connection with an illicit affair he conducted with an Iraqi woman.

He [was] also charged with wrongful cohabitation, failure to obey an order and conduct unbecoming an officer, according to the charge sheet. A previous administrative investigation found that he’d neglected his command to further his love affair with the Iraqi woman whom he’d met on deployment, according to an Army 15-6 investigation, the administrative precursor to the criminal case against him. [Stars and Stripes, 7 June 2012]

His career is over. If he fails to pay the fine, he spends five years in the slammer, presumably with time off for good behavior (if he’s capable of it). The sentence seems a bit lenient for his misdeeds, but the Army might have been trying to preserve benefits for his former wife. He’ll retire without a star, with plenty of time to contemplate his execution of Duty, Honor, Country.

His legal misadventures began when his legal wife, Kris, following surgery in the states, learned he was a bigamist. The medical benefits to which she was entitled had been assigned to another woman: his “wife,” according to the Army, which Johnson had duped. She didn’t take that well, promptly throwing him to the brass. It’s a juicy story, and the links I’ve used lead to more of the dirty details.

The Flathead Connection

So what’s this sorry son of a three-star’s connection to the Flathead? It’s where he was married to his second squeeze. He wasn’t, here, of course. Neither was his Iraqui gold-digger. According to the Stars and Stripes (7 June 2012):

Court documents from Flathead County, Mont., show that James Houston Johnson III and Haveen All Adin Al Atar were married on Nov. 9 by double proxy. “It currently is a valid marriage,” said Peg Allison, the clerk of the court for Flathead County.

Except for the bigamy, which Col. Johnson committed without witting Flathead help, it was all perfectly legal. Kinda gamey, of course, but legal. And it appears, rather profitable.

As stories in the Flathead Beacon (14 June 2012), the New York Times (10 March 2008), and the Missoula Independent (31 May 2007), all report, Montana is the only state that allows double proxy marriage, and Flathead is the only county that performs it. It was legalized after World War II, but wasn’t used much until 2003 when Kalispell attorney Dean Knapton researched the issue at a client’s request and recognized the economic opportunities.

The enabling statute was tightened up a bit in 2007 (HB-361, introduced by Great Falls Democrat Deb Kottel) to require that at least one party to the marriage be a resident of Montana or a member of the military, but the double proxy part was retained. That’s why two people who never lived in Montana, or even stood in an adjacent state looking at Montana, can, from a sugar shack in Samarra, tie the virtual knot right here in Kalispell.

Knapton’s handled more than a thousand double-proxy marriages, reports Myers Reese of the Beacon:

But business has slowed down for the Knaptons as more competitors have moved in. When he was “virtually the only game in town,” Knapton said he would average five to 10 proxies per week. He once did 15 in a single sitting with a judge. But now a number of companies offer proxy marriage services. Some are based locally and others are not. The out-of-state businesses use local attorneys to file the paperwork

Allison knows of about a half-dozen local attorneys who deal with proxy marriages. She said the county used to process roughly 10 proxy marriage licenses a month in 2005. These days, it’s closer to 40 or 60 a month. There are often more single and double proxy licenses hitting her desk than regular marriage licenses.

“It’s crazy,” Allison said. “Every time I look at these numbers I go, ‘Wow, I can’t believe it.’ It’s definitely on the rise.”

Entering “double-proxy marriage” (be sure to use the quotation marks) into Google yields sites such as Bigfork attorney Paul Sullivan’s Armed Forces Proxy Marriages and, which provides a contact form, a telephone number (local Verizon cellphone), and a price ($600), but not the name of the person behind it.

The competition may be bringing down the price of a double-proxy knot tying session. Four years ago, the NY Times’ Dan Berry reported:

By the virtue of the authority vested in her, Judge Ulbricht pronounces an absent military couple husband and wife, all in a Montana minute.

The cost to the real bride and groom: $900, $50 apiece to the proxies, $100 to the judge, $150 to the lawyer (and witness); $53 for court fees; $14 for two certified copies of the marriage certificate; and the rest to a Pennsylvania couple who run a business facilitating proxy marriages.

“Ceremony No. 2,” the judge says, and the next joining in holy matrimony, one between a soldier from Texas stationed in Korea and a woman living in Panama, begins.

So the price has come down by a third; the free market at work, undoubtedly to Alan Greenspan’s delight. But there may be a minor error in Berry’s report. He said the judge was paid $100, which makes it appear as though the money went into the judge’s pocket instead of the court’s coffers. That can’t be right; sure shouldn’t be right.

Allison told the Independent’s Carl Peters that:

“…most of the marriage licenses go to military personnel, adding, “Ninety percent of [proxy weddings] are for folks that are in the military, and they’re getting married to foreign women, and/or they’re marrying someone at home. [It’s usually about] someone in need of benefits.

“It almost always boils down to dollars,” she says. “Don’t most things?”

What it boils down to for me is the Flathead’s becoming the double-proxy marriage capital of the nation, an honor in the same category as Las Vegas’ distinction as the quickie-marriage and quickie-divorce capital of the US. What’s next under the Big Sky? Double-proxy tourism? Double-proxy divorce? Double-proxy marriage consummation?

What do our candidates for political and judicial office think of double-proxy marriage? What do they think should be done about it? Why?