Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore Declared Guilty of Ethics Violations, Suspended for Rest of Term Without Pay

Moore-pdMONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Court of the Judiciary (COJ), led by a chief judge who also serves as an elder in his church, has declared Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore guilty of all six charges of ethics violations surrounding allegations that he ordered judges in the state not to issue same-sex “marriage” licenses and has been suspended for the rest of his term without pay.

The COJ said in its decision on Friday that it did not agree that Moore’s Jan. 6 memo was “merely to provide a ‘status update’ to the state’s probate judges,” but could indeed be considered an order.

“We … do not accept Chief Justice Moore’s repeated argument that the disclaimer in paragraph 10 of the January 6, 2016, order—in which Chief Justice Moore asserted he was ‘not at liberty to provide any guidance … of the effect of Obergefell on the existing orders of the Alabama Supreme Court’—negated the reality that Chief Justice More was in fact ‘ordering and directing’ the probate judges to comply with the API orders regardless of Obergefell or the injunction in Strawser,” it wrote.

As previously reported, Moore stated during his trial on Wednesday that he did not “encourage anyone to defy a federal court or state court order,” remarking that it is “ridiculous” to believe otherwise.

“I gave them a status in the case, a status of the facts that these orders exist,” he said. “That is all I did.”

He said that he sent a memo to his colleagues at the Alabama Supreme Court, which had issued an order in March 2015 halting the issuance of same-sex licenses in the state apart from Moore, urging them to provide guidance in light of the federal Obergefell decision.

When they did not, he released a memo in January advising judges about the status quo until the court issues instructions as requested.

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“Until further decision by the Alabama Supreme Court, the existing orders of the Alabama Supreme Court … remain in full force and effect,” he wrote on Jan. 6, adding, “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.”

On Friday, the COJ declared Moore guilty of failing to “perform the duties of his office impartially,” failing to “avoid impropriety,” failing to “respect and comply with the law” and failing to “abstain from public comment about a pending proceeding in his own court,” among other charges.

“For these violations, Chief Justice Moore is hereby suspended from office without pay for the remainder of his term. This suspension is effective immediately,” it declared.

The COJ said that Moore was not removed from the bench because a unanimous vote is required for removal, and the COJ was not in unison about how the matter should be handled. The COJ had the choices of acquittal, a statement of censure, suspension or removal.

“A majority of this court also agrees with the JIC that the only appropriate sanction for Chief Justice Moore is removal from office. Removal of a judge from office, however, requires ‘the concurrence of all members sitting,” it wrote. “It is clear there was not a unanimous concurrence to remove the Chief from office, so the COJ suspends him for the remainder of his term.”

As previously reported, the chief judge of the COJ, Justice J. Michael Joiner, is an elder at The Church at Brookhills in Birmingham and serves as a Bible teacher.

“He is an active member of The Church at Brookhills where he teaches a Bible study class,” his bio reads. “He previously served as Deacon and Chairman of the Shelby Baptist Association Credentials Committee.”

In 2014, Joiner, who serves on the Alabama Criminal Court of Appeals, likewise joined his colleagues in striking down a state law that criminalized those who engage in “deviate sexual intercourse with another person,” after a man was imprisoned for forcing another man to drop his pants.

Moore was first suspended from the bench in May after the homosexual advocacy groups Southern Poverty Law Center, People for the American Way, the Human Rights Campaign, and a drag queen who goes by the name Ambrosia Starling, pressed the JIC to take action against Moore.

The controversy began in 2013 when two lesbians in the state sued Gov. Robert Bentley, Attorney General Luther Strange and Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis—among others—in an attempt to overturn Alabama’s marriage amendment after one of the women was denied from adopting the other woman’s child.

In January 2015, U.S. District Judge Ginny Granade ruled in favor of the women, prompting Moore to send a memo to probate judges throughout the state, advising that they are not required to issue “marriage” licenses to same-sex couples as he believed that Grenade’s ruling only applied to the two women.

Moore also wrote a letter to Gov. Robert Bentley, 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,” he stated.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) then filed a judicial ethics complaint against Moore over his letter to Gov. Bentley, and the homosexual activist group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) submitted 28,000 petition signatures to the JIC calling for Moore’s removal.

As confusion ensued over Moore’s letter to probate judges, one judge, John Enslen of Elmore County, asked the full Alabama Supreme Court for further guidance. In March 2015, six of the nine judges of the Alabama Supreme Court released a historic order halting the issuance of same-sex “marriage” licenses in the state. Moore recused himself from the matter and was not included in the order.

“As it has done for approximately two centuries, Alabama law allows for ‘marriage’ between only one man and one woman,” the 148-page order read. “Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to this law. Nothing in the United States Constitution alters or overrides this duty.”

Three months after the Alabama Supreme Court issued its order, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges. The Alabama court did not immediately lift its order following the ruling as it took time sorting through the matter.

Therefore, in January, Moore sent another letter advising that the full court’s previous instructions remained in effect until it issued directives in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell.

But he also noted that his memo did not weigh in on how June’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling has impact on the Alabama Supreme Court’s directive, and said that it was not his place to make that determination. In March, the court finally issued its opinions on the matter, dismissing all outstanding cases before the bench.

In May, the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) announced that it had filed ethics charges against Moore, and suspended the chief justice while he faced a trial before the COJ.

Moore’s attorneys state that they plan to appeal Friday’s decision.

“The 2016 Administrative Order was merely a status report of the pending case before the Alabama Supreme Court. The order did not change the status quo. It did not create any new obligation or duty. To suspend Chief Justice Moore for the duration of his term is a miscarriage of justice and we will appeal this case to the Alabama Supreme Court. This case is far from over,” Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel said in a statement.

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