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Chief Justice Denies Motion to Remove Judge Olu Stevens From Criminal Cases

Judicial Center
J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton on Friday denied a request from Louisville's top prosecutor to remove Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens from all the criminal cases before him.

In his order, Minton wrote that the commonwealth's attorney's request was "tantamount to a request for removal from office" and beyond the scope of powers afforded to the chief justice.

Minton is referring the motion to the Judicial Conduct Commission for further review.

The Judicial Conduct Commission is the only entity authorized under the Kentucky Constitution to take disciplinary action against a sitting Kentucky judge. The commission can issue reprimands or remove a sitting judge from office, accordingto the Kentucky Court of Justice.

Last month, Minton removed Stevens from two criminal cases after receiving complaints from Jefferson Commonwealth Attorney Tom Wine that Stevens had rendered himself bias after making targeted Facebook posts towards Wine.

In the posts, Stevens accused Wine of favoring all-white juries after the prosecutor questioned whether Stevens has the ability to dismiss a jury based on its racial makeup.

Stevens continued posting to the social media site about the issue, which led Wine last month to file a motion for Minton to remove Stevens from all his criminal cases.

In an order issued Friday, Minton added that Wine's motion "sufficiently details facts indicating a substantial likelihood that Judge Stevens has committed violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct."

The chief justice also acknowledged the ramifications of removing Steven's from his criminal cases.

"A disqualification of this magnitude would effectively remove Judge Stevens from his criminal docket for the foreseeable future and render him unable to fulfill the constitutional duties of a circuit judge," Minton wrote.

Before the Judicial Conduct Commission, Stevens would be able to defend himself during examination. He will also be afforded the right to counsel, the right to cross examine witnesses and the right to subpoena witnesses and produce evidence in his defense, according to Minton's order.

Earlier this month, it seemed that Wine and Stevens were reaching common ground in the swelling controversy.

After protests and rallies in support of Stevens, the judge and Wine were ordered to mediation. Following the mediation, at which Stevens and Wine acknowledged that neither is a racist and, Wine rescinded his motion to have the judge removed from criminal cases.

But he renewed that call after Stevens again took to Facebook.

Minton, in his order, noted that "Judge Stevens has repeatedly demonstrated that he does not intend to comply with the letter or spirit" of the mediation agreement.

"His continued public comments, even if not directly in reference to the Commonwealth’s Attorney or the pending certification-of-law case, give a clear indication that he intends to continue violating the Code of Judicial Conduct, despite assurances to the contrary given privately to the Chief Justice and during the course of the mediation," Minton wrote.

Stevens has said the issues surrounding Facebook posts overshadows the larger issue at hand, which is that Kentucky juries often lack diversity.

Only 14 percent of potential jurors in Jefferson County in October were black, according to the state’s Racial Fairness Commission; the month before, the group estimated that figure was only 13 percent.

Duke University study found that from 2000-2010, all-white juries in Florida convicted black defendants 16 percent more often than white defendants. Researchers found that figure went to nearly zero when at least one member of the jury was black.
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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.