Fayette County

‘Insult to the process.’ Judge who wouldn’t hear gay adoptions skips disciplinary hearing.

'He decided to flout the process.' ACLU reacts as judge in gay adoption case skips hearing

Amber Duke, communications manager for the ACLU of Kentucky, reacts to Judge W. Mitchell Nance's absence from a hearing of charges against him.
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Amber Duke, communications manager for the ACLU of Kentucky, reacts to Judge W. Mitchell Nance's absence from a hearing of charges against him.

A judge did not attend a Friday hearing to answer charges that he violated ethics rules when he objected to handling adoption cases involving gay parents.

Neither W. Mitchell Nance, family court judge for Barren and Metcalfe counties, nor his attorneys attended a hearing of the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission in Lexington.

Nance had announced in October that he would resign effective Saturday night. Nance’s attorneys asked the commission to dismiss the case given his decision to resign.

But Steve Woltnizek, chairman of the commission, said “Whether Judge Nance appears or not, we are required to conduct a hearing.”

Commission attorney Jeff Mando said afterward that it is “not totally unusual” for a judge to be absent, “especially in light of the fact he resigned.”

Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, which advocates for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, said he thought Nance’s absence was “an insult to the process.”

“It shows how flippantly he feels about this,” Hartman said.

The commission deliberated in secret after a 10-minute hearing but won’t announce its decision until next week.

Nance issued an order in April requiring lawyers to notify him if they had an adoption case involving a gay parent or same-sex couple so he could recuse himself from the case.

Nance said his religious convictions prevented him from handling such adoptions because adoption of a child by a “practicing homosexual” would never be in the child's best interest.

The commission charged that Nance’s order violated a number of ethics provisions.

Those included rules that require judges to uphold standards of conduct, comply with the law and act in ways that promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. Judges are barred from showing bias or prejudice based on race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status.

Nance also put his recusal rule in place without permission from the state’s chief justice.

Nance’s attorneys said it is his sincere religious belief that “the divinely created order of nature is that each human being has a male parent and a female parent,” and therefore, the only adoption that serves a child’s best interest would be one that would create the chance for the child to have a patent of each gender.

Nance’s decision not to handle adoption cases involving gay parents would have led to impartial decisions and made sure that all families had a fair opportunity for adoption, his response to the commission said.