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Judge accused of screening same-sex couples has hearing

Marion County's Vance Day goes before Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability Nov. 9.

COURTESY OF FACEBOOK - Marion County Circuit Judge Vance Day will have a hearing before a judicial fitness committee this month.A Marion County circuit judge accused of discriminating against same-sex couples faces a misconduct hearing next week.

Judge Vance Day’s legal team has argued his actions are protected under the state and federal constitutions.

The Oregon Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability is scheduled to hear the case Nov. 9 to 20 in Salem. The outcome could give clarification on whether judges relinquish their First Amendment rights when they take the bench.

The discrimination allegation is among a total of 13 complaints lodged against Day. After taking testimony in the case, the commission will decide whether to recommend to the Oregon Supreme Court dismissal of the complaints or disciplinary action against the judge.

Day has repeatedly declined to perform same-sex marriages based on his Christian faith. Circuit judges are under no obligation to perform marriages. Day’s misconduct case stems from allegations that he asked his staff to screen out same-sex wedding applicants.

Judicial conduct rules prohibit judges, “by words or conduct” to “manifest bias or prejudice” based on sexual orientation, race, religion, political affiliation and other attributes. Day instructed his assistant to find another circuit judge who was willing to perform same-sex weddings, according to Day’s formal response to the complaint.

The couples “are not prohibited from finding someone else to marry them, and in fact, his office was giving them help to find someone who would,” said Day’s spokesman Patrick Korten of Great Falls, Va. “It’s pretty clear to me, at least, this is not a valid cause for a complaint to the commission.”

(Korten is an independent contractor who specializes in judicial public

affairs. He is a former director of public affairs for the U.S. Department of Justice.)

Day also is accused of allowing a felon to handle a firearm and then lying to a commission investigator about knowing the person was a felon.

Other complaints claim the judge called defendants names and required veterans to review materials that exacerbated their post-traumatic stress disorder.

He is accused of collecting money from attorneys to pay for veteran-related wall hangings in the courthouse, including an image of Adolph Hitler, and falsely claiming to have permission to display the items.

Another complaint alleges he gave his judicial business card to a soccer official at his son’s game.

Day has denied the accusations.

Korten said the accusations related to the soccer officials had already been dismissed by the commission, but commission staff chose to present the complaints again.

Commission Executive Director Susan Isaacs did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the case.

"Oregon's Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges, among other things, to observe high standards of conduct in order to preserve the integrity, impartiality and public confidence in the judiciary," she wrote in a statement. "It prohibits judges from engaging in conduct that reflects adversely on the judge's competence and temperament, from using their judicial position for personal advantage, and from manifesting bias or prejudice against parties or other persons."

Day’s legal team consists of Spooner & Much Attorneys at Law in Salem, Portland attorney Mike Day, who is not a relation, and Jim Bopp of the nonprofit James Madison Center for Free Speech in Indiana.

By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
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