Top judicial ethics stories of 2017 – So far

  • In early 2017, several judicial ethics advisory committees answered inquiries from judges about whether they could participate in marches, contact their elected representatives, or engage in similar political activities as private citizens or respond as judges to other public officials’ misconceptions about the rule of law. Click here for a previous post about the opinions.
  • A special Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of the Judiciary suspending Chief Justice Roy Moore from office without pay for the remainder of his term for entering an administrative order that directed all probate judges to follow Alabama’s marriage laws in disregard of a federal court injunction. Click here for a previous post about the case.  Shortly after the decision, the Chief Justice resigned to run for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he became Attorney General of the U.S.
  • Following a de novo review, the Wyoming Supreme Court censured Judge Ruth Neely for her refusal to perform same-sex marriages and ordered that she either perform no marriage ceremonies or that she perform marriage ceremonies regardless of the couple’s sexual orientation. Inquiry Concerning Neely, 390 P.3d 728 (Wyoming 2017).  Click here for a previous post about the case.

Top stories still developing:

  • On June 16, the Oregon Supreme Court held oral arguments on the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability that Judge Vance Day be removed from office for a variety of misconduct. The Commission found that the judge had committed misconduct by (1) after the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was overturned, directing his staff to lie about his availability to same-sex couples asking to be married and direct them to another judge; (2) at 2 community college soccer games for his son’s team, trying to intimidate a referee by, for example, brandishing his judicial business card while threatening to complain to the referee’s employer about his job performance; (3) facilitating the handling of a firearm by a former Navy SEAL and convicted felon (identified as “BAS”) on active supervised probation in the veterans court over which the judge presided; (4) “enamored with BAS’s notoriety and his accomplishments in the military,” having unsolicited, often unwanted, personal, and completely inappropriate out-of-court contacts with him, including texting him, showing up at BAS’s home uninvited, taking him to a wedding, bringing BAS to his home, nurturing a relationship between BAS and his son, and facilitating favors for BAS such as rides and food; (5) securing funds for a “Hall of Heroes” (military art hung in his courtroom and in the surrounding public areas, including a donated portrait of Hitler) in part by soliciting financial support from attorneys who appeared before him and collecting the money, often in the courthouse and once during a status conference in his chambers; (6) making public statements to create the impression that the Commission proceeding was solely about his religious beliefs and refusal to conduct same-sex marriages to deflect attention away from his other misconduct; and (7) engaging in a pattern of dishonesty and untruthfulness during the Commission proceedings.
  • In May, the ACLU of Kentucky, Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, Kentucky’s Fairness Campaign, and a law professor filed a complaint with the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission against Judge Mitchell Nance after he announced he would no longer hear adoption cases involving “homosexual parties” because he “as a matter of conscience” believes that “under no circumstance” would “the best interest of the child be promoted by the adoption by a practicing homosexual”
  • On April 17, in an exercise of its general superintending control and to protect the integrity of the judicial system and “ensure that all are given a fair and impartial tribunal,” the Arkansas Supreme Court re-assigned all cases involving the death penalty or the state’s execution protocol, whether civil or criminal, that had been assigned to Judge Wendell Griffen and referred Judge Griffen to the Commission on Judicial Discipline & Disability.  Judge Griffen has also filed a complaint about the order against the justices with the Commission.  The Court’s order was prompted by Judge Griffen’s participation in 2 protests against the death penalty on Good Friday April 14 (he is also a pastor) and his entry of a temporary injunction that same day in a suit brought by a drug distributor against the use of its paralytic drug in 8 executions the state had scheduled in 10 days beginning Monday April 17 because its supply of the drug, which was one of the drugs used in executions, was about to expire.

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