Reported by Tami Jackson on 3 November, 2015
On the surface, my native state of Oregon remains the setting of rugged and breathtaking panoramas, the sought-after subject of legendary photographers and painters.
But beneath that physical surface that baptizes the artist’s imagination wages a fierce culture war, the spoils being the character and morés of Oregon’s people. Oregon’s soul as it were. The battle repercussions could shake the nation.
And smack dab in the middle of the battle is Marion County Circuit Court Judge Vance Day, “the subject of an investigation by the state judicial fitness commission in part because of his decision not to officiate weddings for gay couples.”
Perusing the headlines across the nation for September, those stories concerning Judge Day are so patently skewed as to be almost comical.
- “The troubling case of Judge Vance Day: Editorial” (the “Editorial” tacked on most likely eased the authors’ consciences for blatant bias)
- “Judge who refuses to perform same-sex marriages faces new allegations“
- “Oregon Judge Refuses To Perform Same-Sex Marriages“
- “Oregon judge who refused to perform same-sex marriages hung portrait of Hitler in courthouse, bullied veterans“
- “Steve Duin: Faith, marriage and Judge Vance Day“
In that last article, Oregonian Metro Columnist Steve Duin wrote:
Marion County Circuit Judge Vance Day needs to retire with his “deeply-held religious beliefs,” now that the evolving complexity of justice has overwhelmed him.
In the last year, Day has, instead, raised questions about his impartiality, imposed on his colleagues, and laid the groundwork for a fundraising campaign to defend himself against a judicial fitness complaint.
Those choices were set in motion 16 months ago when U.S. District Judge Michael McShane struck down Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage. Day immediately ordered his staff to funnel gay and lesbian couples seeking a more perfect union to other judges in the Marion County court system. Several months later, Day recalculated and decided to quit officiating marriages altogether.
Day – who attends Morning Star Community Church in Salem – is welcome to such exercise when he’s off the bench. But that faith-based stamp-of-approval is precisely what many couples seek to avoid when they head to the courthouse, rather than the local chapel, to finalize this civil transaction.
Just how many Marion County judges would need to follow Day’s lead, I wonder, before gays and lesbians reached the conclusion that the circuit court is in revolt against the rulings of McShane and the Supreme Court of the United States?
What I would posit of Duin? First, you do realize that SCOTUS is not vested with the power to make law?
And second, a judge is only “…welcome to such exercise [First Amendment rights] when he’s off the bench”? Meaning a sitting judge has no First Amendment rights?
When former Gov. John Kitzhaber appointed Day to the bench in 2011, Day’s religious views on marriage equality didn’t bring him into conflict with state and federal law.
Ahhh. There’s the rub. That, my friends is the “Living Document” school of thought that twists the U.S. Constitution and state constitutions to suit the current whim or degeneracy of society. It would seem that a law that is ever-changing and morphing to the pleasure of those who would otherwise be law-breakers is no law at all.
Those headlines stand as examples of what poses as journalism in America today. Nothing like the old standards established by Walter Williams, founder of the world’s first school of journalism at University of Missouri in 1908. Williams taught would-be-columnists to get out the who, what, why where and how and hold everyone’s feet to the fire.
The dozen or so stories on Judge Day are mostly re-hashing of the Oregonian and Statesman stories, with little or no investigation. So who is Judge Vance Day? What are the allegations? And who or what is the Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability?
Let’s start at the beginning and navigate the muddied waters of the case.
Vance Day is a native Oregonian, born at Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland. Raised in the Portland metro area, Vance was a beloved son and brother (with an older and younger sister). Vance’s mother, Janet, is a lovely woman whose ready smile and quick intellect belie her octogenarian status.
Janet recounted her son’s facile mind and great humor from the youngest age. She particularly remembered that, at age 13, Vance made a heartfelt decision to follow Jesus and give Him his whole life. The stories she told made perfect sense in light of Vance’s will to honor his Savior, whether overtly or in subtle ways. After all…what does it mean to follow Jesus? Jesus himself told a religious leader:
“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.’
“And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30 & 31
The stories of Vance Day’s life paint a picture of a man who habitually lives out , who loves God and people, ALL people.
Vance was a soccer player, Boy Scout (eventually an Eagle Scout, as are his sons), active in Young Life, loved to sail, attended Sunday School and church.
Vance met his bride-to-be Mattie when they were both attending Regent University. He earned his law degree at Willamette University Law School. Willamette was originally established in 1834 by missionary Jason Lee who came to the Oregon Territory to establish a Methodist mission for Native Americans living in the Willamette Valley.
Randy, fellow Willamette law student, friend, and later colleague in the same law firm, related his first meeting with Vance:
“When I first met him I was in the student lounge watching Perry Mason. Vance walked into the room, looked at me and said hello and the first substantive thing he said was “What is your worldview?”’
“I asked him, “What do you mean by that?”’
“He explained to me and that’s how he found out that I was a Christian and that’s how I found out that he was a Christian.’
“He wasn’t afraid to speak out.”
Another anecdote Randy shared which illustrates Vance’s willingness to take charge and make a difference:
“Willamette was founded as a Christian university and the Dean at the time was Catholic. We were graduating and there was no baccalaureate for the law students. Vance said, “Let’s do a baccalaureate!”’
“The Chaplain said, as a religious school we could do that. So they arranged to do a chapel and Judge Otto Skopil delivered the message (Judge Skopil was a Christian).’
V”ance was and is a networker and knows a lot of people…he pulled it together. Vance sang and led the hymn singing — he has a good voice.””
In other ways Vance’s faith affected his law practice. Randy remembers:
“He’s always been a patriot, always conservative, always a Christian and solidly so.’
“The other thing is he did do a lot of pro bono work as a lawyer. He did personal injury and he saw it as a matter of stewardship.’
“He would bring matters of faith into client meetings. For personal injury he would take even small cases, even if he would not make money doing it.”
What I learned from those around Judge Day is not what you will see in most of the Mainstream Media Press.
Vance founded the Marion County Veterans Treatment Court whose mission statement states:
The mission of the Marion County Veterans Treatment Court is to identify veterans within the criminal justice system and honor their sacrifice and service by providing a collaborative, judicially supervised, mentor-oriented treatment regime with the goal of enhancing public safety by stabilizing, habilitating and reintegrating dependence-free veterans back into our community by utilizing federal and community resources.
Day has also been closely associated with and supportive of Veterans, and especially the Band of Brothers veterans, at least one of whom was from Oregon and became Vance’s great friend.
The headlines stress the fact that Vance will not marry same sex couples. There are several charges being brought against Judge Day: from hanging a “picture of Hitler” in the courthouse, to seeing a felon handle a handgun, to collecting monies from other colleagues for artwork in the courthouse. But none of these charges spurred the Oregon Commission of Judicial Fitness to action until they were made aware that the judge would not marry same sex couples.
Each charge has a simple and innocuous explanation, none of which have been detailed in the press.
Also not detailed in the press is the critically important fact that marriage is not a compulsory judicial duty in Oregon, but entirely optional.
In Part 2 of this series I will get into the details of the charges, what ACTUALLY occurred, the truth about the “Hitler picture,” the nature and lack of accountability of the Commission on Judicial Fitness, and what lies ahead on Vance’s (and Mattie’s) legal journey.
The Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability receives perhaps 150 – 250 complaints per year, and maybe 1 or 2 complaints are escalated to an ethics complaint. And those 1 or 2 complaints might warrant a day-long hearing.
But for Judge Day? The CJFD is allotting 2 weeks beginning Monday, November 9 (excepting Wednesday the 11th, which is the Veterans Day holiday). The hearings commence at 9AM each day at the Capitol Hearing Room 50 November 9 – 13, and at the Department of Transportation Ackerman Conference Room November 16 – 20. These are public hearings, and many friends and supporters of Judge Day will be in attendance, listening and praying.
Also of note, these legal procedures are costly. Vance and Mattie having secured a home equity loan to pay some of the legal fees (which may exceed $250K), but any who would like to support the Judge may do so at DefendJudgeDay.com.
A last thought. When asked if he intends to fight these charges, most of which are baseless or overblown, Vance answered yes. When asked what the core issue is, Vance immediately responded, “This has to do with my not marrying same sex couples.”
Again, remember that performing marriage ceremonies is entirely optional for judges in the state of Oregon, and Judge Day no longer marries ANY couples.
When hinted that he should just quietly resign from his job Vance answered:
“That’s not going to happen. I didn’t take this job because it’s a job, but because it’s a calling. I believe in justice. This is about judicial independence and threatening other judges or people of faith. If that’s where we’re going as a nation, I fear for our future.”
Everyone, every Christian, may have their Esther moment, that point in their life where they know they were put in the position they’re in for “such a time as this.” For this native son, who began life at Good Samaritan Hospital, and has lived his life according to biblical precepts, a real life good samaritan, this is Vance Day’s moment to stand. He does not intend to shirk it.
I, for one, am honored to tell his story, to follow the case of a brother in the faith under fire.
And I will be petitioning heaven on Judge Day’s behalf.