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Tuesday, May 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Defends Use of|’Raggedy Asses’ in Court

SALEM, Ore. (CN) - Calling military veteran defendants "raggedy asses" in court was a good way for Judge Vance Day to connect with them, two therapists and a former district attorney testified Thursday during Day's ethics hearing.

Oregon's Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability already has heard testimony about why the Marion County Court judge hung a portrait of Adolf Hitler in his courtroom, refused to officiate at same-sex marriages and whether he had an inappropriate relationship with a former Navy SEAL who was a defendant in his court.

The seat of Marion County is Salem, the state capital. The two-week hearing was expected to conclude today, Friday, but lengthy testimony might require an extra day Monday. The commission will then consider the 13 ethics charges, and can recommend sanctions or dismiss them. Its recommendations will go to the Oregon Supreme Court.

On Thursday, the commission heard testimony from two therapists who work with veterans.

Day's attorney Ralph Spooner called as witnesses Scott Delbridge, state chaplain for the National Guard and a therapist with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Craig Bryan, professor of psychology at the University of Utah and a therapist who focuses on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Spooner played a clip of Day presiding at veterans court, in which the judge referred to one defendant as a "raggedy ass."

During testimony in week one, William B. Brown, a professor of criminal justice at Western Oregon University who specializes in the reacculturation of veterans adjusting from war to civilian culture, criticized Day's language in the courtroom.

"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."

But on Thursday, neither therapist was fazed by the term.

"My vets cuss every session for the hour," Delbridge said. "I have become immune to the f-word. If you're going to work with veterans, you better get used to it. If they feel disrespected, that might be a trigger, but as far as cussing, they wouldn't have made it through boot camp if that was a problem."

Bryan agreed.

"Use of that term would really depend on the context," Bryan said. "But no, I don't think it's necessarily demeaning, especially if you're trying to create community and connection. I can tell you that I have barbecues with all the vets and we sit around and make fun of each other. It's part of military culture. We have used much more colorful language than that and laughed it off."

Bryan Orrio, former deputy district attorney for Marion County and part of the team in Day's veterans court, told Spooner that Day's use of "raggedy ass" actually helped.

"You're dealing with somebody who has been in combat," Orrio said. "You are dealing with somebody with shame and very painful issues that they are dealing with in their life. You want to give them some of the feeling of home. I watched the veterans when that kind of language was being used and it made everybody in the room relax."

The Judicial Commission's attorney Victoria Blatchley questioned that assertion during cross-examination.

"You think using the term raggedy ass in a courtroom is relaxing?" Blatchley asked.

"In the courtroom, with such a heavy context of talking about drug abuse and domestic violence and losing your home, that term actually does lighten the mood," Orrio said.

"For you," Blatchley said.

"For a lot of people," Orrio said.

"You think a lot of people like to go to court and be insulted by the judge?" Blatchley asked.

"Those are your words," Orrio said. "I didn't say Judge Day insulted him."

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