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Judge Defends Himself|at Ethics Hearing

SALEM, Ore. (CN) - Judge Vance Day testified Tuesday on the second day of a hearing on allegations that he refused to officiate at same-sex marriages, hung a portrait of Hitler in the Oregon courthouse and let a felon handle a gun.

Victoria Blatchley, attorney for the Commission for Judicial Fitness and Disability, called Day as a witness in the afternoon. In the morning, the commission heard testimony from William B. Brown, a professor of criminal justice at Western Oregon University who specializes in the reacculturation of veterans adjusting from war back to civilian culture.

Brown criticized the way Day ran the Marion County Veterans Treatment Court, saying some practices in Day's courtroom could endanger the safety of veterans and showed lack of understanding of military culture.

Brown, who served in the Vietnam War and was a platoon leader, said veterans appearing before Day, who referred to himself as "officer in charge," were required to stand in "parade dress," a military stance with feet shoulder-width apart, hands clasped behind the back and mouth shut.

"You can't speak," Brown said. "I mean, not a word. It doesn't make much sense in a court proceeding."

Day said he did not insist that veterans observe parade dress, though he acknowledged in his deposition that it was a rule in the Veterans' Court participant manual.

Brown also criticized the requirement that veterans in Day's courtroom recite the Pledge of Allegiance before proceedings began.

"To me, the Pledge of Allegiance has always seemed a little bit like a patriotic formality," Brown said. "It was surprising on the one hand and a little bit demeaning on the other to have veterans who have served their country having to demonstrate their patriotism."

Day said veterans were not required to recite the pledge, and were welcome to opt out if they preferred.

But Brown said the idea that a veteran in Day's court could breezily refuse a request from the judge betrayed his lack of understanding of the rules of authority in military culture.

"People with a military background would offer respect and obedience to a judge," Brown said. "Obedience in the military is obeying and conforming and responding to all orders. In some cases they say, unless it's illegal or immoral or something like that. But the reality is, in the military, you follow all orders."

Day acknowledged that he called veterans in his court "raggedy asses." He said it was a way to relate to veterans in terms with which they were familiar.

Brown took issue with that.

"We use terms like that in basic training, when we're indoctrinating trainees," Brown said. "We actually use terms worse than that. But to me, in the civilian world it's ridiculing, demeaning. I know sometimes it is joking, but in a formal, courtroom atmosphere, it's my opinion that it's insulting."

Financing the Heroes Hallway

Day acknowledged that he took donations from attorneys to cover the cost of some of the military memorabilia he hung on the fourth floor of the Marion County Courthouse.

The hallways of the fourth floor, where Day's courtroom and chambers are, were covered with dozens of displays of military art - an area Day named the Heroes and Heritage Hallway.


He said he displayed the names of the attorneys who donated money for specific displays on gold plaques below each piece of art, but removed the plaques when another judge complained that they implied favoritism.

He acknowledged that he received a reimbursement of more than $4,000 for military artwork he had bought and donated to the Heroes Hallway. He said Elan Lambert, coordinator of the Marion County Veterans Treatment Court, and an employee whom Day directly supervised, wrote the check to reimburse him.

Day said Lambert wrote him another check for more than $1,100 to reimburse him for T-shirts he bought for mentors.

Day said he did not seek reimbursement for another $2,000 that he spent on wall hangings for the Heroes Hall.

Brown, who twice visited Day's courtroom during research for an academic paper he co-authored, called "Serving Those Who Served: Veterans Treatment Courts in Theory and Practice," said the Heroes Hall did not celebrate the veterans who appeared in Day's court.

"Everything that I viewed were World War II pictures and photos," Brown said. "And I'm looking at the predominantly young veterans, who I assumed were defendants, and it was possibly degrading. Because there are the real veterans and there are no images of the current wars.

"And I felt that way too, myself as a Vietnam veteran. I felt was mostly a glorification of war. But more specifically, I felt it was disrespectful of young veterans."

Day's Treatment of a Navy SEAL

Blatchley played several video recordings of Day presiding over the Veterans' Court during appearances by former Navy SEAL Brian Shehan. Day took a special interest in Shehan, hiring him to do odd jobs, inviting him for holiday meals and helping Shehan fix his wood stove.

In its complaint, the commission accused Day of letting Shehan, who was convicted of felony drunk driving, handle a gun.

Blatchley played a clip of Day ordering Shehan to read the book "Fearless."

"Fearless" tells the story of the life and death of Adam Brown, a member of Seal Team Six -- the unit that killed Osama bin Laden.

Shehan served in the SEALS with Brown.

"Adam was a friend of mine," Shehan said when Day told him to read the book.

"Then you knew him?" Day asked.

"Yeah I did," Shehan said. "He was my brother. I'm sorry, I'm trying not to lose it emotionally. I'm not drunk and I'm not on any other substances, so I feel like I got a river underneath my skin so I apologize if I sound like I'm losing it."

"Not at all," Day said. "I'm one of those folks who thinks that a good cry once or twice a week is a darn good thing. Especially if you knew Adam."

Shehan sniffled.

"Yes, sir, I will," he said.

Brown questioned the legitimacy of asking a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder to read a book about the death of a friend.

"First off, that's got to be pretty traumatic," Brown said. "I mean, it would be traumatic to me if I had lost someone I'd served with. You're very dedicated to each other.

"The vast majority of vets don't watch movies or media coverage of war," Brown said. "Most say they don't like to repeat or look at things that remind them of Iraq or Afghanistan, particularly those with first-hand experience in combat."

In an October 2013 court appearance, Shehan asked Day if he could accept an offer to give a presentation during a training exercise for the Portland Police Bureau.

Day allowed it.

"Thank you for allowing me the chance to do what I can," Shehan said. "To have purpose."

"No guns," Day said. "You don't get any guns."

Blatchley played another video clip, from Shehan's November 2013 appearance in Day's court.

"How are you doing?" Day asked.

"Honestly, it's not all sunshine and rainbows, but that's life," Shehan said. "But at least I'm waking up instead of coming to and going through everything sober."

Day said he had received a report from the Portland Police Bureau that Shehan had given an excellent presentation.

"Can I use a gun now?" Shehan asked.

The courtroom erupted with laughter.

"No," Day said with a smile.

But Day allegedly allowed Shehan to hold a gun on two occasions, once when Shehan was doing odd jobs at Day's daughter's home and another time at Shehan's home.

Day denied seeing Shehan hold a gun at his daughter's house.

"I did not see him handle a gun," Day said. "In fact, my memory is he did not handle a gun."

But on Jan. 5, 2014, Day and his son, Justin, went to Shehan's house to fix his wood stove.

Blatchley asked if Day had considered whether Shehan was comfortable with a judge visiting him at home.

"How would he say no to the person who could put him back in jail?" Blatchley asked.

"You don't know Mr. Shehan," Day said. "Mr. Shehan can say no."

Day acknowledged in his deposition that he saw Shehan showing a combat move to Day's son that day.

"I heard Mr. Shehan saying something like, 'You come around the corner and you hit him in the face with the gun, then you shoot him,'" Day said. "That made me turn around, and I had my hands in the pellets and the soot, and I saw Mr. Shehan holding a pistol and showing a move to Justin."

"Did it concern you that Mr. Shehan was a felon holding a gun?" Blatchley asked.

"No," Day said. "There was nothing in my mind at the moment that had to do with the word felon. I was there helping a veteran, fixing his pellet stove. I was not thinking about him being a felon."

"Regardless of him being a felon, did it concern you that he had post-traumatic stress disorder and was handing a gun?" Blatchley asked.

"No," Day said. "That did not run through my mind."

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