In a rare and unusual step, an elected Circuit Court Judge in Marion County, Oregon has been suspended for three years after a four-year legal battle over a series of offenses and for engaging in “a wide array of misdeeds.”
The state Supreme Court upheld a finding by the Oregon Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability that Judge Vance Day of Salem, Oregon refused to marry same-sex couples (and lied about it), repeatedly allowed a felon to handle a firearm, improperly used his influence and included a portrait of Adolph Hitler in a “Hall of Heroes” artwork display he erected in the Marion County Courthouse.
He was found to have committed “willful misconduct” and made “willful misstatements” to investigators to cover up the truth, according to the Oregonian.
“This is the first time I’m aware that a sitting judge has been indicted” in Oregon, said Phil Lemman, a spokesman for the Oregon Judicial Department. “So thankfully, it’s very rare.”
Day has been suspended since 2016 when the Commission first cited him but has continued to collect his $124,468 a year salary. During his suspension, he did some work and research from home. He will now not be able to collect his salary.
Day was appointed a judge in 2011 and won a six-year term of office in 2012, so he would be up for election again later this year. Due to his suspension, he will not be allowed to run for office this election cycle. Despite this serious dishonor, he could run three years from now if he wants.
Day is also subject to action by the Oregon State Bar Association, which could take away his right to practice law, which he had been doing since 1991 before becoming a judge.
Day was found to have acted with prejudice against same-sex couples by the decisions not to marry them and by instructing his staff to employ a scheme to avoid “public detection” of his plan, the Supreme Court said.
Day instructed his staff to check and see if a couple seeking to marry was same sex, and if they were, his staff was to tell them Judge Day was not available that day.
Day “willfully manifested to his staff a bias against same-sex couples that undermined public trust in a fair and impartial judiciary,” the Supreme Court ruling said.
An attorney for Lambda Legal, a national civil rights organization which submitted a brief in the case, applauded the court ruling on Day.
“A judge is not a public official, not a priest, and is required to perform the duties of the office without bias or prejudice,” said Ethan Rice, an attorney for Lambda Legal in a statement to NBC News.
While the Supreme Court ruled against Day, it sidestepped the constitutional issue of the legality of same-sex marriage to avoid any other challenges to its decision.
In another charge, the Supreme Court agreed that Day violated his oath by allowing Brian Shehan to handle guns after he had been convicted of a felony for drunk driving – with Day supervising his treatment and follow up – on multiple occasions.
When first confronted Day denied he knew Sheehan even though he supervised his case.
In one instance, Day went to Sheehan’s home in January 2014 and allowed Sheehan to handle a gun his son-in-law brought along. Shehan then gave the son-in-law lessons in target shooting with the gun.
The Oregonian reported in 2016 that a grand jury issued a secret indictment of Day on two counts of “aiding and abetting in the crime of felon in possession of a firearm and two counts of first-degree official misconduct.”
Day wasn’t taken into custody, reported the Oregonian, and didn’t have his mugshot or fingerprints taken.
In another charge, Day was at a community college soccer game in 2012 when his son as hurt. Day shoved “his judicial business card at a soccer referee,” according to the Oregonian, “to intimidate the referee because Day was mad at him for a call he’d made before his son’s injury.”
Day claimed he is innocent of all charges throughout the legal process and said his decision not to marry single-sex couples was due to his religious convictions.
“We conclude that a lengthy suspension is required, to preserve public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,” the court’s opinion said.
Day is only the second judge to be suspended or fired in Oregon legal history and the first to be suspended since 1981 when a judge was fired for lying under oath.
The legal system worked very slowly but eventually, it did work, and that is at least somewhat heartening.