When Hizzoner Can Be "Your Honor"

Lukas Schulze, Getty Images
Lukas Schulze, Getty Images / Lukas Schulze, Getty Images

In the aftermath of New York’s decision to approve gay marriage, news broke that Mayor Michael Bloomberg would officiate at the wedding of two of his office aides. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani has also reportedly backed out on his promise to officiate at a friend’s wedding.

This raises a question: why can a mayor officiate a wedding?

In New York state, mayors, former mayors, county executives, and police justices are among the state offices that can oversee a marriage (check out the full list here). But further, the city charter of New York City grants mayors the power of a magistrate, which, among other responsibilities, includes the power to oversee a marriage.

In fact, former mayor Ed Koch was so fond of that power that it even showed up in one of his murder mysteries, Murder at City Hall, which features a crime-fighting mayor solving a murder that happened during a City Hall wedding he was officiating.

Although the magistrate power is rarely invoked, former mayor Fiorello LaGuardia was also known to use it on occasion. LaGuardia, himself a former lawyer, would frequently put on judicial robes and sit in on cases as part of his bid to clean up the city. He was famous for storming up to the courthouse and handing out harsh sentences to criminals, including one famous case in which he sent a slot machine operator for jail, for more than the normal penalty.

In another legendary (yet unconfirmed) case, LaGuardia found himself forced to rule against a woman who had stolen bread to feed her starving grandchildren. LaGuardia said he had no choice but to levy a $10 fine against her, but then followed up by ordering everyone in the courtroom to pony up 50 cents to help cover the fine and feed her family.

Other states offer similar powers for their mayors. In Ohio and Louisiana, for example, mayors can set up their own courts to hear minor cases involving traffic offenses and municipal violations.

Of course, no one may have capitalized on the law career offered by the mayoral office as much as Koch. In addition to his murder mystery series, Koch stretched his legal muscles by acting as the judge on The People's Court for two years.