Panel refuses to impeach judge

A judge who ruled that a woman must protect her adopted child from "homophobic" religious doctrine will not be impeached, a House committee ruled Tuesday.

The House Judiciary Committee voted down Rep. Greg Brophy's impeachment resolution 8-3 after a majority found that Denver District Judge John Coughlin did not abuse his office in the custody ruling.

"The situation before us today, the judge acted within his statutory authority whether we like the agreement or not," Rep. Joe Stengel, R-Littleton, told a packed committee hearing.

But Brophy, R-Wray, said he will continue to keep an eye on Coughlin and any other judges who engage in what he considers judicial activism.

"It's important to note that the legislative branch has this power (to impeach) and at least one member of the legislative branch is not afraid to use it," he said after the hearing.

Tuesday's impeachment vote centers on a decision Coughlin made in a custody dispute between two lesbian women, one of whom had adopted a child from China and initially gave some parental rights to her partner. The adoptive mother, Cheryl Clark, eventually committed herself to Christianity and renounced her homosexuality. Coughlin ruled that the mother should not allow the child to be taught anything that could be considered "homophobic."

The ruling is being appealed.

Brophy's resolution charged that Coughlin violated Clark's First Amendment right to freedom of religion and violated state law by granting responsibilities to a nonadoptive parent without finding Clark was an unfit parent.

Rep. Don Lee, R-Littleton, along with Reps. Lauri Clapp, R-Centennial, and Richard Decker, R-Fountain, voted for the impeachment resolution, saying Coughlin ignored state law banning same-sex couples from adopting children.

"The policy of the state of Colorado is the policy of the state of Colorado," Lee said. "I think Judge Coughlin deliberately ignored that."

But committee chairwoman Rep. Lynn Hefley, R-Colorado Springs, said Brophy and his two witnesses, who were heard last week, did not make their case that Coughlin should be impeached.

"I think, quite frankly, that he acted with compassion," she said. "I don't see this rising to the level of impeachment."

Outside the hearing, Coughlin's attorney expressed relief and said Coughlin will not let the impeachment attempt change the way he rules on cases.

"Judge Coughlin will continue to be the fair and thoughtful judge he has been for 25 years," said Denver attorney Andy Loewi.

The impeachment seemed doomed from the start as Gov. Bill Owens and Senate President John Andrews, whose Senate would have needed a two- thirds vote to convict on an impeachment, opposed Brophy's resolution.

In Thursday's public hearing on the subject, Brophy brought in two lawyers from conservative groups that have vowed to fight judicial activism. A half- dozen Denver lawyers and former judges spoke on Coughlin's behalf, saying he is a well-respected judge.

In Tuesday's hearing, Rep. Anne McGihon, D-Denver, said Brophy wrote Coughlin a letter in February deceptively asking for more information about the case because he was considering legislation.

Brophy said after the hearing that had Coughlin explained his reasoning at that time, he might not have pushed for impeachment.

Brophy also said his primary purpose was to impeach Coughlin but his secondary purpose was to rein in judges from making law.

"The judicial branch in the state of Colorado and around the country got this message," he said.


The House has the sole power to impeach a state or judicial official, and the Senate tries the official to see if he or she is convicted. Otherwise, there are no constitutional guidelines or House rules that outline the process.

In previous impeachments, the House appointed a special body to investigate the allegations. That committee made a recommendation to the full House.

The full House votes on the articles of impeachment and can approve them with a simple majority. Two-thirds of the Senate must approve a conviction on the impeachment articles.