Ex-Kentucky judge reprimanded for stance on gay adoptions

AP News
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Posted: Dec 19, 2017 2:36 PM

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A Kentucky judge retired after his objections to handling adoption cases involving same-sex couples met with criticism, but that didn't shield him from a parting rebuke from a disciplinary commission, which reprimanded him Tuesday.

Former Judge W. Mitchell Nance, who raised moral objections to hearing adoption cases involving gay and lesbian adults, was publicly reprimanded by the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission. That was the only public sanction available, the commission said, due to Nance's previously announced retirement, which took effect last Saturday.

One commission member advocated a much harsher punishment — Nance's removal from office — since the commission voted on the case before Nance's retirement took effect.

The commission said that Nance violated judicial canons 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.

Gay rights activist Chris Hartman said he was pleased with the public reprimand of Nance's "discriminatory actions."

"This should be crystal clear to judges all across Kentucky and the U.S. — if you can't uphold and respect the law, you have no place on the bench," said Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, a Kentucky-based LGBTQ advocacy group. "Excluding LGBTQ people and families is judicial misconduct, plain and simple."

Nance's attorney, Bryan Beauman, confirmed in an email Tuesday that Nance had retired, but he did not provide a response to the reprimand. Nance offered no defense at a hearing last week before the judicial disciplinary committee. Neither he nor his attorney attended.

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 heard family court cases in Barren and Metcalfe counties, a rural stretch in south-central Kentucky. The judge, citing religious objections, filed an order in April that signaled his unwillingness to handle adoption cases involving gay and lesbian adults.

His order stated that attorneys should notify court officials if their adoption cases involved gay adults, so he could take steps to recuse himself. He cited a state law requiring judges to disqualify themselves from proceedings when they have a personal bias or prejudice.

Kentucky's chief justice blocked Nance from instituting the procedural change that would have let him avoid handling such cases.

In its reprimand of Nance, the disciplinary commission said: "The Kentucky Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges to fairly and impartially decide cases according to the law. Judge Nance's refusal to hear and decide adoption cases involving homosexuals is violative of said canons."

Sitting judges can face possible suspensions or even removal from the bench in the most extreme cases for flouting judicial rules.

One commission member, Judge David Bowles, voted that Nance be removed from office, the commission said. Since Nance's resignation had not yet taken effect when the commission voted, Bowles believed "the only appropriate vote was a vote to remove him from office."

Nance had claimed that his recusal from adoption cases involving same-sex couples would ensure a fair outcome for everyone involved.

In an earlier filing in the case, Nance's attorneys 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."