Hearing underway for judge who wouldn't perform gay weddings

AP News
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Posted: Nov 09, 2015 5:14 PM
Hearing underway for judge who wouldn't perform gay weddings

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A disciplinary hearing began Monday for an Oregon judge who is accused of a variety of ethics violations that include screening marriage applicants to exclude same-sex couples.

Marion County Circuit Court Judge Vance Day went before the Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability for the start of a trial-like proceeding that is expected to last two weeks.

Day is accused of breaking several rules from the Code of Judicial Conduct, including a requirement that judges "observe high standards of conduct" so their integrity and independence is preserved.

Day has acknowledged that after gay marriage became legal in Oregon last year, he told his judicial clerk that any same-sex couples who wanted him to preside over their wedding should be referred to another judge.

A few months later, Day stopped doing weddings altogether. He said he's not aware of any gay couples who sought his services.

Day is also accused of hanging a portrait of Adolf Hitler in the Salem courthouse, soliciting money from lawyers appearing before him, threatening a youth-sports referee, allowing a convicted felon to handle a gun, and lying to ethics investigators.

Day, a former Oregon Republican Party chairman, has denied he violated judicial ethics rules, and said even if he did, the rules are unconstitutional. He said he's being targeted because of his Christian beliefs.

"It appears that the commission has thrown everything in but the kitchen sink," Day told The Associated Press in September. "The clear issue that they're after me on is that I had stopped doing weddings because I have a firmly held religious conviction."

Day is the head of Veterans Treatment Court, which aims to provide intensive monitoring of veterans to treat drug and alcohol problems as an alternative to jail. Several of the allegations against him stem from his interactions with veterans and displays he placed around his courtroom.

The judge says the Hitler portrait was not intended to glorify the Nazi dictator but was part of a display on democracy's defeat of fascism. He says he solicited money from lawyers to pay for patriotic displays intended to inspire veterans who ran afoul of the law.

A panel of judges, lawyers and members of the public will decide whether sanctions are warranted and make recommendations to the Oregon Supreme Court, which has the final say.

While the judicial fitness commission gets dozens of complaints each year, it is rare for one to result in a formal disciplinary proceeding. Since 2007, five judges have been referred to the Supreme Court for sanctions, said Susan Isaacs, the commission's executive director.