Judge, clerk in marriage case dealt with nepotism charges

Published 9:22 am Thursday, September 3, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kim Davis and the judge that will decide her fate have at least one thing in common: They both had to deal with questions of nepotism when they got their jobs.

Davis is the Rowan County Clerk who has refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of her religious beliefs, in defiance of multiple court orders. U.S. District Judge David Bunning is the man who on Thursday will determine whether to fine her or throw her in jail for refusing to obey his order.

Davis’ mother, Jean Bailey, was clerk for 36 years before retiring last year. Davis worked for her mother for 27 years before getting elected to replace her. Once elected, Davis hired her son to work for her.

Email newsletter signup

Bunning is the son of Jim Bunning, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies who served two terms as Kentucky’s junior U.S. Senator. Former Republican President George W. Bush nominated David Bunning for a lifetime position as a federal judge in 2001 when he was just 35 years old, halfway through his dad’s first term in the Senate.

The American Bar Association said David Bunning was not qualified to be a judge because he did not have enough experience. At the time, Bunning had 10 years of experience as a lawyer, all as an assistant U.S. attorney in Kentucky. The American Bar Association recommends federal judges have at least 12 years of experience. An attorney investigating Bunning at the time said his writings “read very much like the work of a young associate.”

“I have tirelessly spent the last 10 years of my life making sure justice is served in all cases,” Bunning told the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing.

The committee, which included fellow Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell at the time, unanimously confirmed Bunning anyway. The full Senate confirmed him with a voice vote on Valentine’s Day of 2002.

Since then, Bunning has been anything but a sure thing for conservative causes. In 2007, he was part of a three judge panel on a federal appeals court that overturned Michigan’s ban on partial-birth abortion. The panel ruled the state’s law was too broad and would outlaw other legal forms of abortion.

In 2003, Bunning ordered the Boyd County School District to allow the student club Gay-Straight Alliance to meet on campus. Some students formed the group because they were concerned about an “aggressive environment” at the school against gay students, according to Sarah Alcorn, one of the group’s founders that was a party in the lawsuit.

“From what we understood (Bunning) came from a conservative background,” Alcorn said. “We were really unsure about how he was going to view the case.”

Alcorn said she was 16 years old when she had to testify in court. She remembers feeling nervous and emotionally exhausted “because there was so much hostility.” But in the courtroom, she said Bunning put her at ease.

“We had dealt with people whose judgments were based on their own personal feelings,” Alcorn said. “I learned a lot to be in front of an adult and to be in a situation with an adult who was able to be completely objective.”

As part of an eventual settlement in that case, the Boyd County School District agreed to hold anti-gay harassment training sessions for school officials and students. The district penalized students with an unexcused absence if they skipped the training. A student and two sets of parents sued the school district, arguing the training violated their right to free speech because it forbade them from telling others that homosexuality was wrong.

Bunning sided with the school district. His decision was later upheld by a federal appeals court.