Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice will go to trial over antigay order

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore speaks to the media during a news conference in Montgomery, Ala., on Monday, Aug. 8, 2016. He is accused of breaking judicial ethics during the fight over same-sex marriage in the state.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore speaks to the media during a news conference in Montgomery, Ala., on Monday, Aug. 8, 2016. He is accused of breaking judicial ethics during the fight over same-sex marriage in the state. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A state judicial panel on Monday refused to dismiss an ethics complaint against Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, saying that Moore will go to trial in September on accusations that he urged 68 probate judges to defy the federal courts on same-sex marriage.

The Alabama Court of the Judiciary, a state panel that disciplines judges, refused dueling requests to either dismiss the complaint against Moore outright or go ahead and remove him from office. Chief Judge Michael Joiner said the case will go to trial Sept. 28. The panel of nine judges will hear the case and decide whether Moore violated judicial ethics and if so, what punishment he will face.

The decision came down shortly after the conclusion of a 60-minute hearing in which Moore was alternately portrayed as a politician on a mission to block gay couples from marrying in Alabama or a judge who was merely trying answer questions from confused probate judges. Moore — who was ousted from office by the court in 2003 for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building — could be removed as chief justice for a second time.

“We are here to talk about Chief Justice Roy Moore and his repeated refusal to follow the rule of law,” John Carroll, a former federal magistrate representing the Judicial Inquiry Commission, told the court. Carroll said Moore abused his power as chief justice to promote a private agenda against same-sex marriage.

The complaint stems from a Jan. 6 memo he sent probate judges. Moore wrote that a March order from the state Supreme Court to refuse marriage licenses to gay couples remained in full force and effect. The order came even though the U.S. Supreme Court had effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide six months prior and a federal judge said Alabama should follow that decision.

A lawyer for Moore said the chief justice was only clarifying the status of the state injunction that was issued in March because probate judges were asking questions about it.

“The probate judges were flapping in the wind. They were wondering what to do,” his lawyer, Mat Staver, told the court. Moore’s order was merely a legal “truism” that the order had not been lifted by the state court, he argued.

Staver, in defending Moore, repeatedly emphasized a section of the January order where Moore told the probate judges that he was not at “liberty to provide any guidance to Alabama probate judges on the effect of (the U.S. Supreme Court ruling) on the existing orders of the Alabama Supreme Court.”

Carroll countered that Moore’s intent was clear: to try to urge probate judges to fight against same-sex marriage.

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