SALEM — Marion County Circuit Judge Vance Day’s Christian beliefs regarding marriage are incompatible with his duties, says a state panel that is now recommending he be removed from his job for that and other reasons.
In what The Oregonian described as a rare action for the panel, the Oregon Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability in a 48-page report on Jan. 25 recommended to the state Supreme Court that Day be ousted from the bench. The commission had held a two-week hearing last Novem-ber into Day’s conduct and concluded that he has undermined public trust in the judiciary.
A licensed attorney in Oregon since 1991, Day is a devout Christian. He was appointed to the Marion County court post in 2011 and elected in 2012. Following the May 2014 federal court decision making same-sex marriage legal in Oregon, Day has stopped doing any wedding ceremonies.
According to the newspaper, the commission claims that Day:
•showed discrimination by telling his staff members that they would have to check his schedule before he could perform a wedding, and also instructed staff to tell any gay couples seeking marriage that he would be unavailable on the requested day and to contact another judge.
•intentionally deceived media and the public by contending that he was being unfairly targeted because of his religious beliefs, when in reality the commission had been investigating him for other concerns before hearing of his refusal to marry same-sex couples.
•engaged in a pattern of dishonesty, much of which aimed to cover up misconduct.
•showed little understanding of the behavioral and ethical boundaries for a judge.
For example, the panel noted that Day included a portrait of Adolf Hitler in an artwork display in the courthouse; Day later said the picture was part of a war-memorabilia collage intended to honor veterans.
In another example cited by the commission, Day hired defendants he was overseeing on probation to help with home projects for himself and his family.
Also, the panel said Day sent numerous texts and personal photos to a felon — a Navy Seal — who was on probation and also compelled the man to introduce Day to his Navy Seal friends — all while the felon was trying to avoid a personal relatinoship with Day.
Furthermore, she panel said Day allowed a felon to handle a gun — despite knowing that was illegal —so the man could help Day’s son prepare for his entry tino the military.
The commission concluded that Day appeared not to comprehend the extent or nature of his ethical violations.
Through a spokesman, Day and his legal team told the newspaper they were disappointed by the panel’s action and said its findings were at odds with evidence presented at the hearing or were fully unsupported by evidence.
They said the panel recommendation disregards Day’s First Amendment rights to freedom of religion, speech and association and that he would vigorously defend those rights and his innocence of the charges before the supreme court.
The commission action was sharply criticized by several conservative talk hosts in the Northwest. Oregon resident Gary Randall, whose Faith & Freedom Network sponsors a daily radio show in much of Washington, said the panel greatly misrepresented Day’s actions.
“It is very troubling to see the extent to which activists will go to police and punish the thoughts and beliefs of Christians — even if there has been no wrongdoing,” Randall wrote in his blog.
Another talk host, KXL radio’s Lars Larson, in Portland, summed up the release of the panel recommendation simply by stating: “Mark your calendars folks: First Amendment free speech died today in Oregon.”