State

Judge retired after uproar over refusal to handle gay adoptions. But he doesn’t avoid punishment.

'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 former judge who refused to handle adoption cases involving gay parents was publicly reprimanded Tuesday by the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission.

The commission found that W. Mitchell Nance, the former family court judge for Barren and Metcalfe counties, violated judicial rules. Bryan Beauman, a Lexington attorney who represents Nance, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Nance’s retirement became effective Saturday night. Nevertheless, the commission said in its order that “a public reprimand is warranted and is the only sanction available.”

The commission voted 4-1 for the reprimand. The commission members voting for reprimand were chairman Stephen Woltnizek, Court of Appeals Judge Janet Stumbo, Pike Circuit Judge Eddy Coleman, and citizen member Michael Noftsger of Somerset.

The order said that Jefferson District Judge David Bowles, the district court member of the commission, voted that Nance be removed from office, “since at the time the vote was taken, Judge Nance’s resignation was not yet effective.”

The order said Bowles “believed that the only appropriate vote was to remove” Nance from office.

Before the reprimand, the commission met Friday in Lexington to consider the charges against Nance. He and his attorneys did not attend the hearing.

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 violated a number of rules.

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 required 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 that the only adoption that serves a child’s best interest would be one that would create the chance for the child to have a parent of each gender.

Nance’s decision to remove himself from adoption cases involving gay parents would have led to impartial decisions and would have made sure that all families had a fair opportunity for adoption, his earlier response to the commission said.

You have heard of LGBT, but do you really know what the letters stand for? And how about QIA? Melissa Winter, youth advocate with the KC Anti-Violence project, breaks down the terminology for you in 90 seconds.

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