The Oregon Supreme Court has issued a three-year suspension to Vance Day, a state judge who refused to marry same-sex couples. It’s the longest suspension the court has ever handed down, short of two judges that were removed from office. The suspension without pay accounts for several other violations as well.
When marriage equality first arrived in Oregon in 2014, Day required his staff to implement a complex process to ensure he wouldn’t preside over a same-sex couple’s wedding. When a marriage request came in, the clerk and judicial assistant were expected to look up the couple’s genders in the Oregon Judicial Information Network (OJIN). If they determined it was a same-sex couple, they were to call the couple and say Day was not available on the requested date. If it was a different-sex couple, the wedding could be placed on his calendar.
This ultimately didn’t result in any actual refusals to same-sex couples. Only once did a same-sex couple’s request come in, but Day was genuinely not available, so the judicial assistant did not have to lie when denying the request.
In their ruling, however, the Oregon Supreme Court concluded it didn’t matter whether an actual refusal took place. “That screening process demonstrated to respondent’s staff that, in exercising his statutory authority and judicial duty to solemnize marriages, he would not treat all couples fairly,” they wrote. “That conduct, in turn, manifested prejudice against same-sex couples, based on their sexual orientation, contrary to Rule 3.3(B).”
Day also faced violations related to his relationship with a veteran whose case he presided over in Veteran Treatment Court. On two occasions, he allowed the individual, who has struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse, to handle a gun despite the fact he was subject to a firearms prohibition. Day had even assured him that he could adjust his probationary condition. Separate from the ethics investigation, Day still faces two felony gun violations and two counts of first-degree official misconduct related to these incidents.
One other incident that contributed to the suspension was Day’s altercation with some referees at his son’s soccer matches. In particular, when the athletics commission investigated his confrontations with the referees, Day lied in an official statement about being physically assaulted by one of them.
“He falsely accused another person of assaulting him, and he otherwise acted dishonestly and for his own self-benefit,” the decision explains. “His misconduct suggested a character that reflected poorly on his fitness to serve as a judge and his ability to exercise sound judgment.”
“We conclude that a length suspension is required,” it concludes, “to preserve public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”
In a statement following the decision, Day’s legal team said he is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. “Judge Day looks forward to vindicating his position in his upcoming trial where he will have a full and fair hearing, and due process provided.”