LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — A Kentucky judge offered no defense Friday at a judicial disciplinary hearing stemming from his moral objections to hear adoption cases involving same-sex couples.
The hearing before the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission proceeded without Judge W. Mitchell Nance or his attorney.
Nance had informed the commission in October that he was resigning. The commission still decided to hear the case, even though Nance's resignation takes effect Saturday. Nance heard family court cases in Barren and Metcalfe counties, a rural stretch in south-central Kentucky.
Gay rights activist Chris Hartman said that civil rights supporters had already gotten what they wanted with the judge's resignation but said the commission hearing was still "symbolically significant."
"I think the Judicial Conduct Commission is sending a clear message that this type of discriminatory behavior is inappropriate and unacceptable in the judiciary and they weren't just going to let Judge Nance go quietly off into the good night. That he has to be held responsible for his actions," Hartman said Friday in an interview.
Sitting judges can face possible suspensions or even removal from the bench in the most extreme cases for flouting judicial rules. But in Nance's case, since he is resigning, he faces a possible public reprimand if the commission determines he violated those rules.
Nance's attorney did not immediately return a call seeking comment on why neither he nor the judge attended Friday's hearing.
Hartman, director of the Kentucky-based Fairness Campaign, said that Nance's failure to appear or send his attorney to the commission hearing was "an insult to the process."
Jeff Mando, an attorney who presented the case to the commission on Friday, laid out the allegations against Nance during the brief hearing.
Mando said that Nance's resignation should not shield him from a ruling on whether he violated judicial canons. "That does not necessarily moot the ... charges that have been leveled against him," Mando said. "We believe the proof ... is sufficient for the commission to take action."
The commission's chairman, Stephen Wolnitzek, said later that a decision could be made before Christmas.
Civil rights advocates had urged Nance's ouster after he declared that "under no circumstance" would a child's adoption by same-sex couples be in the youngster's best interest.
Nance filed an order in April that signaled his unwillingness to handle adoption cases involving gay and lesbian adults. He ordered attorneys to notify court officials if their adoption cases involved gay adults, so he could take steps to recuse himself.
Kentucky's chief justice blocked Nance from instituting the procedural change that would have let him avoid handling such cases.
The judicial disciplinary commission on Friday reviewed whether Nance's actions violated judicial rules requiring judges to promote the judiciary's integrity and impartiality and prohibit judges from showing bias based on sexual orientation, race, religion and national origin.
Nance had argued earlier that his resignation made the ethics case moot.
Nance had claimed that his recusal from adoption cases involving same-sex couples would ensure a fair outcome for everyone involved. He cited a state law requiring judges to disqualify themselves from proceedings when they have a personal bias or prejudice.
His written response to the charges also had laid out the judge's objections to adoptions by gay and lesbian adults. It cited his "sincerely held religious belief that the divinely created order of nature is that each human being has a male parent and a female parent."
Kentucky law allows gay couples to adopt.