Vance Day: A Real Oregon Horror Story

Like Jason coming back to life in the Friday The 13th franchise, Vance Day has reappeared in Oregon’s political universe.

A former Marion County Circuit Court judge, Day is a candidate for Judge of the Court of Appeals, Position 3 this time around. Day served as Chairman of the Oregon Republican Party from 2005-2009, but the Court of Appeals job is a statewide, nonpartisan position. 

“Equality. Freedom. Rule of Law” Day proclaims boldly on his campaign website, a truly ironic message to highlight given his history, which, in case you’ve forgotten or never knew, is a real horror story. 

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.

“Prior to the hearing in this case,  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.”

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.

In the beginning, donations didn’t exactly roll in by the barrel. In the July 1 – Sept. 30, 2015 quarter, contributions totaled just $25,880. Contributions continued to dribble 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, a Virginia-based professional direct-mail fundraising company, a real juggernaut in the money-raising business. 

Eberle came with stellar conservative liberal bona fides. It had raised money for multiple conservative political groups and campaigns, including Oliver North,  American Border PatrolFreedomWorks 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.

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, 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 the fundraising payments, that left just $712,254.20 for other expenses, principally for lawyers. And there was a slew of lawyers at the trough. The two firms pulling in the most money were Hart Wagner Trial Attorney, Portland, $167,640.96, and Sherlag DeMuniz LLP, Portland, $161,827.63.

All the money, lawyers and investigators sounded pretty impressive. How could Judge Day lose with that 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, but only because  a key witness declined to participate.

Day tried to salvage the whole mess by declaring, “I’m the first person to ever push back against the decades of liberal elites in Oregon government.”

Now Vance is aiming for a resurrection with the same message of opposition to “liberal elites”.

Oregon deserves better.