Alabama Justice Suspended Over Monument
Aug. 23, 2003
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ Alabama's chief justice was suspended Friday for his refusal to obey a federal court order to remove his Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of his courthouse.
Roy Moore was automatically suspended with pay when the nine-member Judicial Inquiry Commission referred an ethics complaint against him to the Court of the Judiciary, which holds trial-like proceedings and can discipline and remove judges.
Ruby Crowe, an assistant clerk working with the court, said Moore will have 30 days to respond.
Moore met with the commission earlier Friday as about 100 of his supporters, several blocks away at the federal courthouse, ripped and burned a copy of U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson's order for the monument's removal.
Moore said he told the commission that he upheld his oath of office by acknowledging God. Moore has said Thompson has no authority to tell the state's chief justice to remove the monument.
Moore had no immediate comment after his suspension was announced. His spokesman, Tom Parker, said Moore's attorneys would respond to the complaint Monday.
Although Moore's supporters have said they will try to prevent court officials from moving the monument, Moore's attorneys offered assurances that their client will not interfere with the removal during a conference call Friday with Thompson, two plaintiffs' attorneys who also took part in the call said.
A Moore spokesman said Friday that the justice still intends to formally appeal the order to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Attorney General Bill Pryor said the public corruption and white collar crime unit in his office will handle the prosecution of Moore, who cannot perform any judicial duties while disqualified. Pryor said senior Associate Justice Gorman Houston will perform the chief justice's duties.
``I'm not happy we have to deal with these matters, but it is part of our duties and we will continue to do so,'' Pryor said.
Thompson ruled last year that the monument, installed by Moore in a highly visible public spot in the Alabama Judicial Building, violates the Constitution's ban on government promotion of a religious doctrine.
Thompson had ordered the monument removed by Wednesday _ the same day the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Moore's appeal for an emergency stay.
The state Supreme Court's eight associate justices, meanwhile, overruled Moore and ordered the monument out of the rotunda.
Joe Conn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which sued to remove the monument, said Moore brought the suspension on himself.
``He knew all along that state court judges cannot defy the federal courts and yet he went ahead with this anyway,'' Conn said.
A Moore supporter, Alabama Christian Coalition president John Giles, said the commission was ``trying to take down one of America's finest.''
The monument remained in the rotunda Friday as court officials discussed where in the building the 5,300-pound granite marker could be moved and given proper security. Thompson said it could be moved to a private place in the building.
The ethics complaint, filed by Montgomery lawyer Stephen Glassroth, now goes to the Court of the Judiciary, a panel currently made up of four judges, three lawyers and two non-lawyers that has handled numerous judicial ethics cases.
Attorneys who sued to get the monument out of the rotunda, meanwhile, put their contempt filing against Moore on hold, now that Alabama Supreme Court associate justices have agreed to move the marker.
Moore supporters have held an around-the-clock vigil since Wednesday, and said they planned to continue to prevent the monument from being moved.
On Friday, about 100 protesters moved from the steps of the judicial building to a sidewalk in front of the federal courthouse, where Thompson works. Some ripped to pieces and burned a copy of Thompson's ruling. Demonstrators also held a mock trial, in which Thompson was charged with breaking the law of God.
``We hold you, Judge Thompson, and the United States Supreme Court in contempt of God's law,'' said Flip Benham, director of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.
Inside the state judicial building, court officials were trying to determine where the monument would go and when it would be moved.
Ayesha Khan, an attorney for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, one of the groups seeking removal of the monument, said Thompson told the parties in a conference call Friday that he would schedule another conference call for late next week. She said plaintiffs would drop their request to hold Moore in contempt, or fine the state, if the monument is moved by then.
``Our concern all along has been compliance with the Constitution. Once the monument has been removed, our concerns will have been addressed,'' she said.
Khan said the attorney general, speaking for the eight associate justices who overruled Moore, told Thompson that building officials were looking for the best location for the monument and considering security problems that might occur because of the ongoing demonstrations.
One of the demonstrators, retired Birmingham school teacher Murray Phillips, said she knows the monument will probably be gone from the rotunda soon.
``I'm upset, but I'm not surprised. At least I am going to be able to say to my grandchildren that at least I tried to do something,'' Phillips said.