- Associated Press - Saturday, December 19, 2015

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky’s chief justice has denied a motion to remove a judge from all criminal cases but referred the case to a state disciplinary commission.

In his ruling Friday, Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. unleashed pointed criticism of Jefferson Circuit Judge Olu Stevens, The Courier-Journal (https://cjky.it/1QRGvEo) reported.

Minton wrote that Stevens “appears to flout the directives of the Code of Judicial Conduct, creating a social-media firestorm calculated to aggrandize himself by exploiting the deep-seated and widespread distrust of the criminal-justice system by minority communities.”

Minton said Stevens did not “comply with the letter or spirit” of a Dec. 4 mediation agreement with Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine when he wrote on Facebook that his opponents have tried to remove him from the bench and silence him on important matters of race in judicial selection.

Those posts “give a clear indication that he intends to continue violating the Code of Judicial Conduct,” Minton wrote.

“Rather than provide leadership on an important issue worthy of wide discussion, deliberation and action,” Minton wrote, “Judge Stevens has detracted from the conversation by choosing instead to malign the Commonwealth’s Attorney and mischaracterize his motives in pursuing his constitutional right to seek clarification on an issue of law before the Supreme Court on behalf of the commonwealth.”

Minton concluded, however, that it was beyond his power to remove the judge from all criminal cases.

The chief justice said he referred the case to the state’s Judicial Conduct Commission - the only body with state constitutional power to discipline a sitting Kentucky judge.

Addressing the matter before the commission gives Stevens due process rights, allowing Stevens to defend himself against charges, have an attorney, examine witnesses and produce evidence, Minton said.

Stevens did not immediately respond for comment.

The controversy stems from a November 2014 ruling in which Stevens dismissed a panel of 41 prospective jurors when the lone black person was struck at random, leaving an all-white jury.

Stevens maintained on Facebook that he dismissed the jury panel because it was a “substantial departure from the racial make-up of the average jury panel.”

Wine then asked the state Supreme Court to decide if a judge has the power to do so when there isn’t evidence of discrimination by the prosecution in jury selection. That case is still pending before the high court, and as Minton notes, has nothing to do with Friday’s ruling.

Stevens, in turn, denounced Wine on Facebook, saying he was a racist who supported “all white juries” because of his question to the Supreme Court.

Wine responded by seeking the judge’s removal from all criminal cases, citing bias toward his office and his prosecutors.


Information from: The Courier-Journal, https://www.courier-journal.com

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