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Ernie Chambers files complaint against judge in same-sex adoption case

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LINCOLN — Former State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha has filed a complaint against a Dixon County judge who described himself as “old-fashioned” in denying an adoption petition for a same-sex married couple.

The complaint, dated July 6, was filed against Judge Douglas Luebe with the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which handles judicial ethics issues.

It concerned Luebe’s decision last year to dismiss an adoption petition filed by Kelly Hoagland and Maria Salas Valdez. The Wakefield, Nebraska, women had sought to adopt Yasmin, the then-3-year-old child they had been raising since birth. The two had been married since 2008.

In his order, Luebe said the “plain ordinary language” of Nebraska adoption law does not permit a “wife and wife” to adopt and any other conclusion would turn the court into an “imagination station.”

The Nebraska Supreme Court overturned his decision and concluded exactly the opposite. In a unanimous March ruling, the court also cited the plain language of the law, which said, “any minor child may be adopted by any adult person or persons.”

Chambers, who has made a practice of holding judges accountable, alleged that Luebe’s actions in the case had violated Nebraska laws requiring that judges perform their duties “fairly and impartially” and “without bias or prejudice.”

He said the judge, whom he termed a “scalawag in judicial robes,” warranted discipline under the Nebraska Constitution because he acted unlawfully and had inflicted “extreme mental anguish on a family.”

“His contemptuous conduct is so blatantly inhumane, cruel and devoid of ordinary human compassion that the Angels of impartial justice and judicial rectitude droop their pinions and blush in mortification,” the former lawmaker said.

Chambers also argued that Luebe’s comment about being “old-fashioned” suggested “he knew his putting the kibosh on the adoption petition of a qualified couple flew in the face of the law, but his ‘old-fashionedness’ led him to disregard what he knew the law to be, in order to render a vindictive decision in keeping with his prejudiced predilections.”

Luebe did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment about the complaint.

Hoagland and Valdez were able to complete the adoption at the end of May, following the state high court ruling and the transfer of the case to a different judge.

Along with his complaint, Chambers included a copy of a Nebraska Judicial Ethics Committee opinion, issued after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationally in 2015. The opinion said that Nebraska judges cannot refuse to perform same-sex marriages based on their personal or religious beliefs, unless they refuse to perform all marriages.

“A judge must interpret and apply the law without regard to whether the judge approves or disapproves of the law in question,” the opinion said.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, a federal judge permanently enjoined a Nebraska constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriages. Other same-sex married couples have adopted in the state without being challenged.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-670-2402

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