A judge in Marion County, Oregon is accused in a new ethics complaint of a delightfully broad and varied set of un-judgelike actions. They include refusing to marry gay couples, allowing a felon to handle a gun, harassing a referee at his son’s soccer game, and hanging up a picture of Hitler in the courthouse. SEAL Team Six also makes a brief, weird appearance, because why not?
Marion County Circuit Court Judge Vance D. Day is, most of the time, the head of the Veterans Treatment Court, which offers drug and alcohol rehab programs to veterans in place of jail. He first made headlines last week for refusing to perform same-sex weddings, citing his deeply-held Christian beliefs and his First Amendment rights.
The ACLU’s legal director Matt Dos Santos director told news station KOIN 6 that Day isn’t obligated to perform gay weddings, but only if he doesn’t perform any weddings at all: “The ethics violation would be that he took a discriminatory action by refusing same-sex couples who came to him and asked he officiate their wedding, while at the same time, officiating the weddings of heterosexual couples.” Day’s spokesperson told the station he gave up doing weddings this spring. He’s previously admitted to directing his staff to “screen” the couples applying for marriage licenses with him, so he wouldn’t “embarass” a same-sex couple by turning them away if they appeared before him.
That controversy was followed this week by a press release from the Oregon Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability, which says it’s investigating a broad and bizarre set of additional allegations against Day.
For starters, the judge is accused of getting into a very mature-sounding series of arguments in 2013 with a ref at his son’s soccer game, in which he complained that he had “safety concerns,” per the complaint, about the referee, and showed said ref his business card to let the man know he was a judge. He wrote in a letter to the commission that the ref, at a later game, grabbed him by the shoulders and threw him forward. The Commission says they believe that allegation to be false, and the ref never touched him.
Then there’s the issue of the felon and the guns: the complaint says that a veteran identified as “BAS,” supposedly an alumni of SEAL Team Six, appeared in Day’s court on a felony DUI charge. The complaint says Day hired BAS to do some work at his daughter’s home, and that, while there, BAS found a gun in a hidden compartment, and asked if he could “handle” it. The complaint alleges that Day allowed him to handle the gun then and another gun, another time, when Day came over to BAS’s house, along with his son. Convicted felons can’t have or handle firearms, and the commission accuses Day of telling the man, falsely, that because Day was “his” judge he could “waive” that prohibition. (He can’t.) A subsection of the same part of the complaint also claims that BAS’s PTSD was triggered by a book Day ordered him to read.
Saving the best for last, we have the delicate issue of the Hitler portrait, which Day is accused of hanging in the hallways of the courthouse. This one is actually, incredibly, the most understandable: Day told Fox 12 that the picture was part of a display celebrating veterans, and anyway, he took it down:
Day said he took the picture down after about a week, when a fellow judge suggested that it could be seen as offensive.
Day, though, said it was meant to be a tribute to a local serviceman who fought in World War II and sent the painting of Hitler back home.
“It was his, and we overlaid that with various pieces, and the purpose was to show that a young, vibrant democracy of citizen soldiers could overcome a fascist dictator like Adolf Hitler,” said Day.
Day is also accused of inappropriately soliciting money for said hallway decorations from lawyers, including lawyers who appeared in his court. He admits that he did collect donations, but did so on behalf of a non-profit.
Day denies he engaged in any behavior unbecoming of a judge, telling the Associated Press that all of this is the commission going after him for refusing to perform same-sex weddings: “It appears that the commission has thrown everything in but the kitchen sink. The clear issue that they’re after me on is that I had stopped doing weddings because I have a firmly held religious conviction.”
You can read the condensed version of these messy and yet incredibly entertaining accusations in this press release, or the full version in the complaint itself, along with Day’s responses. A hearing is set for November.
Vance Day. Screengra via KOIN 6, Big Time Small-Time Dicks logo by staff male Bobby Finger