AL chief justice says ethics complaints in same-sex marriage dispute should be dismissed

AL chief justice says ethics complaints in same-sex marriage dispute should be dismissed
Mat Staver with the Liberty Counsel (Source: WSFA 12 News)
Mat Staver with the Liberty Counsel (Source: WSFA 12 News)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who urged state probate judges to refuse marriage licenses to gay couples, held a news conference Wednesday to address complaints filed against him with the Judicial Inquiry Commission.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and several other groups filed an ethics complaint against Moore with the Judicial Inquiry Commission of Alabama in January.

Mat Staver, Moore's attorney and the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said the SPLC's claims in the complaint are beyond the jurisdiction of the Judicial Inquiry Commission because Moore hasn't violated any judicial ethics, and the JIC can't decide legal disputes. Staver and Moore said this case centers around conflicting state and federal opinions on the legality of same-sex marriage and would have to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Moore defended his January administrative order. Moore told probate judges a state court order to refuse same-sex marriage licenses remained effective despite a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision effectively legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

"This is not about any wrongdoing I've done, this is not about ethics, this is about marriage and it's about my legal judgments which I've issued as administrative orders which is in my capacity as Chief Justice," said Moore.

Moore said he never told anyone to disobey a federal court order, but was pointing out the Alabama order hadn't been lifted.

"For months I've sat back while complaint after complaint has been filed by persons, individuals and organizations which have mischaracterized and misstated my position," said Moore.

The conflicting state and federal orders have caused confusion for probate judges across Alabama.

Moore said Wednesday it's up to each probate judge to decide which order, federal or state, to follow.

"If he follows one order, he would do one thing; if he follows another, he may do another," Moore said.

Then Moore said again he can't say which order probate judges should follow.

"We're at a serious time in our country. We're at a time where people [referring to the transgender community] just a few years ago would have been prescribed a mental illness, a mental disorder," said Moore.

The SPLC responded Wednesday.

"Justice Moore has apparently not read the ethics complaints that we have filed against him. Those complaints focus not on his judicial opinions, but on his extrajudicial actions and statements urging defiance of the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court.  But, Justice Moore is right about one thing.  We do have a political agenda – it is called upholding the rule of law," said Richard Cohen, the SPLC president.

Cohen also called the Liberty Counsel an anti-LGBT hate group.

"Justice Moore is a demagogue, so it's not surprising that he would invite a raging anti-LGBT bigot like Mat Staver to defend him at a press conference. All he's doing, of course, is demonstrating once again why he's unfit to be the chief justice of Alabama. As our ethics complaints demonstrate, Moore has repeatedly violated his oath of office and the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics.  He should be removed from office immediately," Cohen said.

This isn't the first time the SPLC has filed an ethics complaint against Moore. In 2003, a complaint was filed regarding a Ten Commandments monument, and he was ultimately removed from the office of chief justice because he refused to remove the monument from the state judicial building as required by a court order.

Copyright 2016 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.