Trial postponed for judge who refused to marry gay people

April 17, 2018 GMT

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The trial for suspended Oregon judge Vance Day, who rose to national prominence after refusing to marry gay couples, and was later indicted on separate criminal charges, has been postponed.

Marion County judge Julie Frantz on Monday granted a motion to move the trial from Day’s home county, where he faces charges of giving guns to a felon. The ruling, made by Frantz from the bench, was announced in a Monday release by a spokesman for the Oregon Judicial Department.

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Day’s attorneys requested the change citing concerns over fairness after media coverage of Day’s case and his marriage stance. Prosecutors had resisted the motion, writing in court documents Day had actively sought media attention, including in an appearance on a talk show, hosted by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and via more than $500,000 in direct mail advertising in 2017. Frantz had said she would wait to rule so she could gauge bias in the jury pool, according to a Statesman-Journal report .

Day’s attorneys could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The criminal case against Day follows earlier ethics charges, for which Day received a three-year suspension, the longest ever handed out by the state’s high court.

Day first garnered media attention for instructing his staff not to schedule any marriages for gay couples after the ceremonies were legalized in 2014. Shortly afterward he stopped performing marriage services for any couple, regardless of their sexuality.

Day’s criminal charges stem from a separate pair of incidents in late 2013 and early 2014, when Day allegedly allowed a felon to handle a gun. The felon was a veteran on probation through a special court where Day was a judge. According to the Oregon Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability, Day had singled out the veteran outside the courtroom, invited him to a wedding, and twice allowed him to handle a gun.

The commission and the state Supreme Court later examined whether Day had broken ethics rules during and after the gun incidents, and in his treatment of gay couples, as well as in other incidents.

In March, the Supreme Court ruled that he had, and ordered Day suspended for three years for ethics violations, the longest such suspension in its history. The court singled out lies by Day to ethics investigators, questioned his fitness to serve as a judge, and said Day’s short-lived same-sex marriage refusal was minor in comparison.

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But in an appearance on Huckabee’s show before the start of his trial, Vance said the investigation of the gun incidents amounted to an attempt to “smear” him for his stance on gay marriage.

Day faces two charges for each gun incident — one each of official misconduct and aiding a felon in obtaining a firearm.

In court documents, prosecutors said Day had spread claims he could face up to 12 years in prison, but in fact faces only probation if found guilty of the felonies, and a maximum of one year each for the misdemeanors.

Neither a new date nor a new location for the trial has been set.