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Rally Shows Support For Judge Olu Stevens

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A group of about 80 people gathered on Friday afternoon to call on the Jefferson Commonwealth's Attorney to cease his efforts to have Jefferson Circuit Judge Olu Stevens removed from all criminal cases pending before him.

The group gathered outside the Hall of Justice in downtown Louisville in a show of solidarity with Stevens.

Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton recently removed Stevens from two criminal cases, saying Facebook posts the judge had written rendered him biased. In the posts, Stevens targeted Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine, accusing him of wanting all-white juries in cases with black defendants.

A spokesman for Wine did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last year, Stevens dismissed a jury due to a lack of black members. In that case, he called the imbalance "troublesome." He repeated the action again last month.

Wine is appealing to the state's Supreme Court, asking for a ruling on whether Stevens' dismissal of a jury based on racial imbalance is permissible. In his appeal to the Supreme Court, Wine denied Stevens' accusation.

Reymonda Stevens, who is married to the judge, said Friday it's "heartening" to have the community support. She said her husband faced a situation with a jury pool of 40 white members, and the lone black member was struck randomly — leaving an all-white jury. The judge said in court that was not representative of the community.

Now, she said, the Commonwealth's Attorney is asking if that matters.

"Yes, it matters," she said.

People gathered Friday said the issue is larger than Stevens, and removing him from all criminal cases would do nothing to address the systemic problems they say have long plagued African-Americans standing trial.

The Kentucky Racial Fairness Commission, which monitors the racial balance of jury pools, has said a mere 14 percent of potential jury members in Jefferson County in October were black. The county is 23 percent African-American, according to the U.S. Census.

Metro Councilwoman Jessica Green, a District 1 Democrat, said Friday it's important to have diversity in the courtroom.

"It is not an unreasonable request," she said. "If you have never been discriminated against on the basis of your race, you may not understand."

Green said the discussions surrounding Stevens' Facebook posts are a "red herring" that distract from the real issue.

"A judge has a responsibility as a jurist to be engaged in the process so it fosters an environment that is fair for all, that is what Judge Stevens has done," she said.

Green stressed that fighting for diversity is not "an attack on the non-minority community."

Karl Price, a former Jefferson County Attorney who was fired this year after refusing to apologize for insensitive comments he made about an Asian-American family, echoed that sentiment, saying the issue is more about fairness in the judicial system than the plight of one judge.

"As a judicial officer, that's his role," Price said.

He said the top priority for a judge is to ensure that everything happening in the courtroom is proper and fair. "Be it a civil matter or a criminal matter," he said.

Featured photo by Jacob Ryan/WFPL News.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.
Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.