BROOKSVILLE — He was nervous, he said, and came dressed in a pink button-down shirt and khakis. She was similarly shy, and wore a lovely, cream-colored lace dress.
Hernando County Judge Kristie Healis smiled at the couple and began.
“We are gathered here ..."
It takes a romantic sort to tie the knot on Valentine’s Day. Even if it is a brief ceremony held in front of a judge in a county courtroom while another couple is waiting their turn in the hallway.
Francisco Medero, 23, and Jacqueline Ortiz, 19, were the first of 16 couples married in a special “Love is in the Air” wedding event held Feb. 14 at the Hernando County Courthouse.
“Generally, we get about 7 to 10 or more weddings on Valentine’s Day, because it is the day of love,” said Hernando County Clerk of the Circuit Court Doug Chorvat.
But members of his staff and a couple of judges wanted to make it special this year.
Some local counties and municipalities advertised mass Valentine’s Day weddings where several couples were welcome to exchange vows at once, said Amy Stephens, Hernando’s courtroom services coordinator.
“We thought it would be a good way to involve the community and show them who we are and what we do,” Stephens said. “It’s not just traffic tickets and court fines.”
They opted to go more of a “speed wedding” route, scheduling private ceremonies at 15-minute intervals, but adding some deft touches.
They held the ceremonies in historic Courtroom 1, with its old wooden gallery seats and the original hand-stitched dusty rose drapes hanging in the windows.
Stephens and Judge Healis dressed up the historic courtroom with white bows and tulle donated by Celebrations By Carrie, a Brooksville event planner. Local photographer Trevor Barlow of Monocle Weddings offered to donate his services during the ceremonies and also took formal pictures with families and friends. County judges Healis and Kurt Hitzemann purchased a large sheet cake and flower bouquets for the brides.
“We wanted to do all the little things that make it feel so special, so it doesn’t feel so cold,” Healis said before the ceremonies began. “I never thought a courtroom could look so pretty.”
In the days prior, she called each of the couples to check name pronunciations and ask about special requests — a contemporary or traditional service, a special reading or poem or whether there was a need for an interpreter.
Hitzemann said he gave the planning “a proper distance.” Even so, he donned a pink shirt and red tie and socks, and carried a stack of handwritten wedding ceremony index cards that had been edited and added to over the years.
“We didn’t expect all this. We just planned it for Valentine’s Day,” said newly betrothed Sarah Englert, after posing for photos with her husband, Matthew Crowson.
Some, like Jesus Lizuniga and Maria Crespo-Brambilla, kept it simple, bringing a couple of witnesses to share in their intimate ceremony..
Haylee Westmoreland, 18, and Christopher Bull, 20, brought a contingency of family from Citrus County
“I’m going to cry when they kiss,” said Westmoreland’s younger sister, Lindsay, 6.
And she did.
“It’s a good thing,” said Chorvat, who stood in the courthouse atrium holding a “Love is in the Air” sign to greet couples as they arrived at the courthouse throughout the day. "We deal with a lot of bad things in the court system, so it’s nice to have some good stuff once in a while.”