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Panel suspends Ala. chief justice

MONTGOMERY, ALA. — MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Chief Justice Roy Moore was suspended indefinitely with pay late yesterday by a state judicial ethics panel for defying a federal court order to remove the granite Ten Commandments monument he installed in the rotunda of his courthouse two years ago.

In an act unexpected in speed and severity, the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission stripped Moore of his duties and charged him with, among other things, failing to "respect and comply with the law" and "conduct himself in a manner that promotes public confidence."

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The commission referred the ethics complaint to the Court of the Judiciary, which holds trial-like proceedings and can discipline and remove judges.

"This is one of the most rare events of Alabama law; this is enormous," said Bryan Fair, a professor at the University of Albama Law School. "It would have been expected certainly to censure him, but not necessarily to suspend him."

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Moore's supporters, who have camped out by the hundreds for days outside the courthouse, reacted angrily to the suspension.

"When 75 percent of the people in this state put somebody into office, they ought to think twice about taking him out," said Gail Crosthwait of Montgomery, who has spent most of the past week in protests at the courthouse. "People are furious."

The panel's decision concluded a day of conference calls and meetings during which state officials, including the governor and attorney general, debated over when and how to remove the monument, and how to respond to Moore's defiance.

U.S. District Judge Myron 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 5,300-pound monument removed by midnight Wednesday - the day the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Moore's appeal for an emergency stay. Moore has said he plans to file a formal appeal with the high court.

The state Supreme Court's eight associate justices, meanwhile, overruled Moore and ordered the monument out of the rotunda Thursday.

Still, Moore refused to comply, saying, "I will never, never deny the God upon whom our laws and our country depend."

Yesterday, Moore's fellow judges agreed to have the monument removed by Aug. 29 to avoid incurring a $5,000-a-day fine from the federal court.

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Moore met with the commission early yesterday. While remaining defiant during the meeting, he said he would not try to block the removal of the monument, according to court officials.

Moore left the courthouse about 5 p.m. and had no immediate comment after his suspension was announced shortly afterward. His spokesman said Moore's attorneys would respond to the complaint Monday.

Attorney General Bill Pryor said his public corruption and white-collar crime unit would handle prosecution of Moore.

"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," he said.

Attorneys who sued to get the monument out of the rotunda put their contempt filing against Moore on hold.

Joseph L. Conn, a spokesman for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, one of three plaintiffs in the case, called Moore's suspension "remarkable."

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"It suggests that the rule of law actually does apply in Alabama," said Conn.

The ethics complaint goes to the Court of the Judiciary, a panel made up of four judges, three lawyers and two non-lawyers that has handled numerous judicial ethics cases.

Protesters continued their round-the-clock vigil outside the courthouse, filling the hours with singing yesterday, chanting and praying and at some points blowing into bullhorns in a symbolic call to Christians around the country to join them. More than 20 demonstrators were arrested late Wednesday on trespassing charges.

"It's been a difficult day, but the Ten Commandments are still here, and the monument is still here," the Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition said last night. Moore's supporters vowed to remain and to physically block the monument's removal.

"If they have to arrest hundreds of Christians, if they have to drag us off these steps, the Commandments will still be here," Mahoney said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.


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