SALEM, Ore. (CN) – An Oregon judge has been barred from the courtroom for three years, after the state Supreme Court found he undermined public confidence in the judiciary by refusing to perform same-sex marriages, letting a felon under his supervision handle a gun and repeatedly lying during investigations into his actions.
Judge Vance Day told his clerks to lie about his schedule to get him out of performing same-sex marriages, the high court found, and he later lied about that scheme when the presiding judge at the Marion County Circuit Court asked him about it. Day claimed his religious beliefs gave him constitutional cover for performing only opposite-sex marriages.
Day faced a panel with the Commission on Judicial Fitness in November 2015. After a two-week hearing, the panel recommended to the Oregon Supreme Court that it strip Day of his judgeship. On Thursday, the court agreed that Day should face a penalty, but it settled on something less severe.
The high court’s full panel did not address Day’s claims of religious freedom, finding that a three-year suspension without pay was justified by the fact that Day had shown bias or prejudice in the performance of his judicial duties and had repeatedly lied about the situation.
Day, who ran the Veterans Treatment Court (VTC), also behaved oddly toward a high-profile member of the Navy Seals who appeared before him on drunken-driving charges. Day took the veteran to a wedding Day officiated, invited the veteran to his home and twice let him handle guns. The veteran told several witnesses that he was uncomfortable with Day’s out-of-court attention, but felt that refusing to spend time with him could endanger his case.
The court found that Day “improperly imposed himself” on the veteran and put him “in a position of being subject to his attentions, while being aware of his own control over [the veteran’s] probation status.” Day put the veteran “in the position of thinking that the successful completion of his probation depended on engaging in favorable out-of-court contact with respondent,” the court wrote.
And singling out the veteran “suggested to other VTC participants that a judge permissibly may develop a relationship with one probationer but not others and, in light of that relationship, treat that probationer partially as compared to others.”
Day’s actions undermined the integrity of the judiciary and showed that he is not trustworthy – an attribute that is especially dangerous in a courtroom environment that “foundationally depends on truthful statements,” the panel wrote. “We conclude that a lengthy suspension is required, to preserve public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”