OR Judge Who Wouldn’t Marry Same-sex Couples is Suspended for 3 Years

The Oregon Supreme Court on Thursday took the unusual step of suspending a sitting state court judge — Vance Day of Salem — for three years.

The high court found that Day, first appointed in 2011 to the bench in Marion County Circuit Court, committed “willful misconduct” and made “willful misstatements” to investigators to cover up the truth.

Day acted with prejudice against same-sex couples by deciding he wouldn’t marry them and he instructed his staff to employ a scheme to avoid “public detection” of his plan, the Supreme Court said.

The court singled out as “exceptionally serious misconduct” false claims by Day that he didn’t know a man he supervised on probation was a felon. Day allowed the man to handle a gun twice in his presence even though Day had told him in court that he was forbidden from handling firearms, the court found.

The court also found that Day lied about being assaulted by a referee or sports official at his son’s Chemeketa Community College soccer game.

“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’s pattern of making “false statements” suggests that he “is not trustworthy,” the court said.

Janet Schroer, an attorney for Day, said she was still reading and digesting the 91-page opinion. She said she had no immediate comment for her client, but planned to have one soon.

Day has been a lawyer in Oregon since 1991. He was appointed to the judgeship by then-Gov. John Kitzhaber and elected to a full six-year term in November 2012, meaning his term would have expired later this year in any case.

But a three-year suspension is a grave dishonor in the legal profession and he won’t be able to run for re-election during that time. He also won’t be paid for the remainder of his term.

Going forward, the Oregon State Bar could seek to have Day disbarred as a lawyer or otherwise disciplined.

Day has been fighting accusations of judicial unfitness since as early as 2013.

The Oregon Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability recommended Day’s removal from office in a scathing report in January 2016. The commission found that he had “engaged in a pattern of dishonesty” to hide a wide array of misdeeds.

Among the commission’s findings:

Day refused to marry same-sex couples; Day included a portrait of Adolf Hitler as part of a “Hall of Heroes” artwork display he erected in the Marion County Courthouse; Day shoved his judicial business card at his son’s soccer referee in an attempt to intimidate the referee into backing off; and Day wrongfully allowed a felon to handle a firearm.


In that last case, the Supreme Court found that Day had invited a felony drunken driving defendant, who was under Day’s supervision in a veteran’s court program, to his son-in-law’s home in November 2013. Once there, Day asked the felon if he could find a gun hidden in a secret compartment of some cabinetry, the Supreme Court said.

Day gave the felon his permission to handle the gun, after the felon found the secret compartment, the court said.

In January 2014, Day and his son also showed up to the felon’s home. Day gave the felon permission to handle a gun that his son brought with him — and the OK to teach his son how to target shoot with it later that day, according to the Supreme Court’s summary of the case.

During oral arguments before the state Supreme Court last June, Day’s lawyers defended his actions on many fronts. They said their client didn’t want to marry same-sex couples because of his deeply held religious beliefs and that Day’s beliefs are constitutionally protected. Day’s lawyers also acknowledged that he had made some mistakes but none that warranted removal from the bench.

Day hadn’t been hearing cases since November 2016, when he was arraigned on felony and misdemeanor accusations that he provided a gun to a felon on two occasions and used his position to obtain a benefit in 2013 and 2014. Day is scheduled to go to trial in April and has vigorously denied he committed any crimes.

Meanwhile, he had been working from home — doing research and other non-judicial tasks, as assigned. He had been drawing his full, legislatively set salary of $124,468 per year.

The Supreme Court has the power to punish judges who it finds in violation of professional codes of conduct. The punishment in Day’s case could have been as light as a public reprimand or severe as removal from office.