The Judge Vance D. Day imbroglio was a financial bonanza for a conservative Virginia-based fundraising firm and a slew of attorneys from around the country.
But in the end, it was all for nothing, zilch, squat.
Day, who had ordered his staff to screen out same-sex couples wanting Day to marry them, claimed that all his legal troubles came about because he was being targeted for his religious beliefs.
In January 2016, the Oregon Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability, dealing with a 13-count complaint, found Day had violated the Oregon Code of Judicial Conduct on eight of the counts relating to his judicial and public behavior. The Commission unanimously recommended Day’s removal from the bench and filed its recommendation with the Oregon Supreme Court.
The Commission also took issue with efforts by Judge Day to tie the Commission’s actions to his refusal to perform same-sex marriages.
In so many ways, Judge Day’s actions seemed to be less about principles than testing his boundaries.
Declaring that he’d been denied due process and his freedom of speech and religion had been violated, Day aggressively pursued vindication, even appealing his suspension to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Day also faced criminal charges, two counts of illegal possession of a firearm by a felon and two counts of first-degree official misconduct, for allegedly allowing a felon he knew to handle a firearm.
Day argued that he was being persecuted for his Christian beliefs. “Throughout the Commission’s prosecution of Judge Day is an open disdain and hostility towards the religious beliefs of those whose faith honors marriage between one man and one woman,” his attorneys said in a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Sept. 3, 2015, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission approved an application to create a legal defense fund for Day, permitted under an Oregon law that allows public officials to create a trust fund to defray the cost of legal bills related to their duties.
Subsequently, Randall J. Adams, a Mt. Angel, OR attorney, established the Vance D. Day Legal Expense Trust Fund with Adams as its trustee.
A “Defend Judge Day” website also went up saying Day’s defense “will likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars” and soliciting donations.
At the outset, donations didn’t exactly roll in by the barrel.
During the July 1 – Sept. 30, 2015 quarter, contributions totaled just $25,880.
Of that, $20,000 came from the Terre Haute, ID-based James Madison Center for Free Speech. The Center was founded in 1997 at the instigation of Sen. Mitch McConnel and attorney James Bopp Jr., the legal mind behind the Supreme Court’s Citizens United campaign finance decision.
Bopp told Slate he founded the Center to serve as a right-leaning counterweight to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Another $2500 came from Ames Research Laboratories of Salem, OR. The company’s President/CEO is William Ames Curtright,. He identifies himself as “Dr.” William Ames Curtright on his company’s and other websites, though he has only received an honorary doctorate from Rivier College in New Hampshire.
Curtright is the founder and Chairman of Turner, OR-based Gathering of the Eagles, described on its website as “a consortium of over 60 Tea Party and patriotic groups.”
Virgil and Shirley Lucas of Salem, OR also stepped up to get things started with a $2500 donation, as did several other Oregonians with $100 – $200 contributions.
The next quarter, Sept. 1 – Dec. 31, 2015, brought in $131,252.26, but again the bulk of it, $92,438.87, came from Bopp’s James Madison Center for Free Speech.
Contributions only dribbled in through 2016 (Q1 – $7,893.53; Q2 – $5,300; Q3 – $345; Q4 – $4,275).
The fundraising effort ramped up the following year, not long after the Washington Times ran an article headlined, “In Oregon, the left targets an evangelical GOP judge.”
But the key to increased donations was bringing on board on May 1, 2017 Eberle Associates, Inc., a Virginia-based professional direct-mail fundraising company.
Eberle came with stellar conservative liberal bona fides. It had raised money for multiple conservative political groups and campaigns, including Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaigns, Oliver North, American Border Patrol, FreedomWorks and Pray In Jesus Name.
Donations flowing from Eberle’s work on behalf of Judge Day escalated rapidly as bushels of contributions began to roll in from across the country.
Patricia Boles of Prattville, AL, Gary Gilbert of New Braunfels, TX and Joan Lusk of West Palm Beach, FL each sent in $100. Martha Jones of Bremen, GA and Richard Porter of Winnetka, IL each donated $1000. Mary Peterson of Yuma, AZ sent in $5,000 and Mr. and Mrs. John Lottis of Sparta, AZ chipped in $3,500.
By Q3 2017, with Eberle churning out direct mail appeals, many featuring Day’s refusal to perform same-sex marriages, revenue increased to $254,803.51.
By Sept. 30, 2018, the most recent period for which public data is available, fundraising revenue totaled $2,008,658.54. The whole effort seemed like quite a success story.
But fundraising expenses, including $1,290,383 in payments to Eberle and $6,021.38 in payments for other related services, totaled $1,296,404.38.
That means Eberle chewed up 64 percent of all fundraising receipts. According to NonProfit Quarterly, “The agencies that set acceptable fundraising percentage limits say that on average an organization’s fundraising expenses throughout the year should not represent more than 35 percent of the donations raised, and most organizations come in significantly below that benchmark.” Some professional fundraisers say the best practice target should be 12-20 cent per dollar raised.
After all fundraising payments that left just $712,254.20 for other expenses, principally for lawyers.
And there was a slew of lawyers at the trough. Here’s the full list and the amount paid to each as of Sept. 30, 2018:
- Hart Wagner Trial Attorney, Portland, OR: $167,640.96
- Sherlag DeMuniz LLP, Portland, OR: $161,827.63
- The Bopp Law Firm, PC, Terre Haute, IN: $88,566.65
- Spooner & Much PC, Salem, OR: $51,848.35
- Michael B. Dye, Attorney at Law, Salem, OR: $22,975
- Randall J. Adams, Mt. Angel, OR: $21,074.50
- Harrang Long Gary Rudnik PC, Eugene, OR: $6,610.58
Some other payments by the Trust Fund have gone to:
- Craig J. Bryan, Psy.D., University of Utah (An Assistant Professor in Clinical Psychology, Bryan currently researches suicidal behaviors and suicide prevention strategies, and psychological health and resiliency, particularly with respect to members of the military): $9,900
- Nash Investigations, Inc, Siletz, OR (Private Investigator): $4,453.05
- Carroll Consulting LLC, Grande Ronde, OR (Private Investigator; personal investigations): $6,628.33
- Naegeli Deposition & Trial, Portland, OR (Deposition fees): $1,252.84
- Beovich Walter & Friend Inc, Portland, OR (Court Reporters): $9,294.43
All the money, lawyers and investigators sounds pretty impressive. How could Judge Day lose with this kind of firepower?
But he did.
- Despite Day’s efforts to explain and defend his behavior, the Oregon Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability unanimously recommended his removal from the bench
- The Oregon Supreme Court imposed a three-year suspension, without pay, on Day.
- The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Day, leaving in place the three-year suspension against him imposed by the Oregon Supreme Court.
- Criminal charges against Day were dropped when a key witness declined to participate.
Day tried to salvage a small victory, declaring, “I’m the first person to ever push back against the decades of liberal elites in Oregon government.”
But the fact is that all the aggressive nationwide fundraising and all those spendy lawyers accomplished nothing, zilch, squat.
“Prior to the hearing in this case, Judge Day engaged in an organized media campaign designed to create the impression that the only reason for the investigation of his conduct is his position regarding same sex marriage,” said the Oregon Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability’s Commission’s Jan. 25, 2016 Opinion. “To this end, Judge Day made repeated public assertions that he was being unfairly attacked by this investigation due solely to his religious beliefs concerning same sex marriage. Judge Day made these statements despite the fact that his position on same sex marriage was not discovered by the Commission until after the investigation was well underway. His assertions in this regard were intentionally deceptive to the public.”
“Oregon judges must rely on their own resources or the help of friends and supporters to mount a defense,” the website said. “We, the supporters and friends of Judge Vance Day, respectfully ask you to financially support and defend a judge’s rights to religious and political speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. If we don’t defend our republic – we are doomed to lose it.”