MONTGOMERY, Ala. A south Alabama judge refused to delay a trial yesterday when an attorney objected to the judge's wearing a judicial robe with the Ten Commandments embroidered in gold on the front of the garment.
Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan showed up on Dec. 13 at his Covington County courtroom in Andalusia wearing the robe at the start of a week of jury trials of cases that were being appealed from lower courts mostly cases like driving under the influence and possession of marijuana.
Attorneys who try cases at the courthouse said they had not seen the judge wearing the robe previously. The commandments were described as being big enough to read on the robe by anyone near the judge, but not like eye-catching slogans on T-shirts.
Andalusia attorney Riley Powell said he was defending a client charged with DUI and filed a motion objecting to the judicial robe and asking that the case be continued. He said McKathan denied both motions.
"I am all for the Ten Commandments for me personally and for my family," Powell said. "But I feel this creates a distraction that affects my client."
McKathan told the Associated Press that he believes the Ten Commandments represent the truth "and you can't divorce the law from the truth."
"The Ten Commandments can help a judge know the difference between right and wrong," McKathan said.
He said he didn't believe the commandments on his robe would have an adverse effect on jurors.
"I had a choice of several sizes of letters. I purposely chose a size that would not be in anybody's face," McKathan said. He said he does not always wear a robe in court, but plans to wear the Ten Commandments robe on a regular basis.
The case is raising comparisons to former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was removed from office in 2003 for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building in Montgomery.
Moore first came to national prominence when he was a circuit judge in Etowah County and hung a Ten Commandments display on the wall of his Gadsden courtroom.
Moore said yesterday he supported McKathan's decision to wear the Ten Commandments robe.
"The recognition of the God who gave us the Ten Commandments is fundamental to an understanding of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. I applaud Judge McKathan. It is time for our judiciary to recognize the moral basis of our law," Moore said.
Powell said his client's DUI trial will continue today. He said if he loses the case, he expected the judge's wearing of the Ten Commandments robe to be part of an appeal to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.
He said the Ten Commandments on the robe was not mentioned in front of the jury yesterday, but he believed it could be a factor. He said the robe could have more of an effect on jurors than a plaque on the wall.
"If you have a plaque, it doesn't impart a judge's own personal opinion," Powell said.