Ethics Complaint Filed Against President of Southern Poverty Law Center for Comments About Roy Moore

SPLC President Richard Cohen

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — An Alabama attorney has filed an ethics complaint with the state’s bar association against the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) over comments made about embattled Chief Justice Roy Moore.

Trent Garmon, managing attorney of the Garmon Law Firm, filed the complaint on July 28 out of his belief that SPLC President Richard Cohen violated the rules of professional conduct, which prohibit making reckless or knowingly false statements about the fitness of a judge.

According to AL.com, the complaint notes that among the numerous public comments that Cohen has made about Moore over the pastor year, he has called the Chief Justice the “Ayatollah of Alabama” and a “demagogue,” and has stated that he was elected “to be a judge, not a pastor.”

“Moore has disgraced his office for far too long,” Cohen also said in a statement in May. “He’s such a religious zealot, such an egomaniac that he thinks he doesn’t have to follow federal court rulings he disagrees with. For the good of the state, he should be kicked out of office.”

Garmon wrote in his complaint that “our chief justice as elected by the voters of Alabama deserves the respect, honor and dignity the rules of professional conduct afford notwithstanding any disagreement as to legal positions held by Cohen and the SPLC.”

Cohen says that the complaint is “baseless.”

“My statements about Chief Justice Moore are protected by the First Amendment and were not ‘know[n] to be false’ or made ‘with reckless disregard as to [their] truth or falsity,'” he told AL.com. “The fact that the Judicial Inquiry Commission has brought an ethics complaint against the chief justice based on a complaint that I filed reflects that my statements had a firm foundation in fact.”

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As previously reported, the SPLC filed a judicial ethics complaint against Moore over his letter to Gov. Robert Bentley last year, urging him to “uphold and support the Alabama Constitution with respect to marriage, both for the welfare of this state and for our posterity.”

“Be advised that I will stand with you to stop judicial tyranny and any unlawful opinions issued without constitutional authority,” Moore wrote.

Other homosexual advocacy groups soon filed complaints against Moore as well, especially after a letter he wrote on Jan. 6 advising probate judges that the Alabama Supreme Court’s previous orders upholding the state’s marriage laws would remain in effect until the full court rules on how the U.S. Supreme Court decision affected the order.

“I am not at liberty to provide any guidance to Alabama probate judges on the effect of Obergefell on the existing orders of the Alabama Supreme Court. That issue remains before the entire court, which continues to deliberate on the matter,” Moore also wrote.

The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) filed ethics charges against Moore as a result of the complaints, and this week, the JIC urged the Alabama Court of the Judiciary (JIC) to remove Moore from the bench.

While the JIC declined to immediately remove Moore, it also declined Moore’s request to dismiss the charges. He is set to stand trial on Sept. 28.

As previously reported, in 2003, SPLC co-founder Morris Dees became the central opponent against Moore’s display of the Ten Commandments on the state Supreme Court grounds, arguing that the chief justice “placed this monument here to acknowledge the sovereignty of God over the affairs of men.”

In addition to taking issue with Moore, SPLC has been known for compiling its list of what it calls “hate groups” due to their biblical stance on homosexual behavior, including Focus on the Family and Family Research Council among its over 1,000 listed organizations.

In 2012, Roy Corkins, who was arrested after entering the offices of Family Research Council with a loaded gun, numerous rounds of ammunition and over a dozen Chick-fil-A sandwiches, told the FBI that his planned massacre was motivated by the “hate group” list on the SPLC website.

“How did you find [this organization] earlier?” an investigator asked in recorded video footage. “Did you look it up online?”

“Southern Poverty Law lists anti-gay groups,” Corkins replied. “I found them online. I did a little bit of research, went to the website, stuff like that.”

Tony Perkins, who leads Family Research Council, said that while the Southern Poverty Law Center characterizes Christian organizations as “hate groups,” it is instead the Center itself that is being hateful and inciting hatred with its actions.


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