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Judge who signed Breonna Taylor search warrant loses reelection

A polling center in the common room of an apartment building right next to Elliott Park in west Louisville.
Justin Hicks
/
A polling center in the common room of an apartment building right next to Elliott Park in west Louisville.

Judge Mary Shaw, who signed the warrant that led to the death of Breonna Taylor, was defeated by challenger Tracy Davis.

Initial results from the Jefferson County Clerk’s office show Davis beating Shaw by about 2,300 votes. Shaw was the only incumbent circuit judge in Louisville facing a challenge this year.

In March 2020, Shaw signed the no-knock warrant that allowed Louisville Metro Police Department officers to enter Taylor’s home. Officers shot and killed Taylor during the raid, which led to widespread protests in the city and across the country.

Three former officers have been charged with federal crimes relating to the warrant. One of them, Kelly Goodlett, pleaded guilty, saying the warrant application contained falsehoods and misleading statements.

Davis is a private attorney who has handled family law, civil law, felony and misdemeanor cases. The Courier Journal recently reported that Davis has appeared as a defendant in court at least three times. She faced charges of reckless driving and felony charges of “making a false statement to receive benefits” and both those charges were ultimately dismissed. She was also sued by a plaintiff who claimed Davis owed her $22,000 for unpaid services. The plaintiff won a default judgment which held up after Davis appealed. 

Breonna Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, recently held a fundraiser in support of her campaign. Davis was endorsed by Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice and the Committee for Fairness and Individual Rights.

Davis told WFPL News last week that bail reform was an important issue to the local community and key for judges to consider. Calls for reform have increased recently as a dozen people in custody of the downtown jail died in less than a year.

“It’s being able to look at those things, review the cases, know the background and be able to come up with a bond that will allow for someone to be able to get out and pay for their litigation, continue to take care of their families and their children while they fight their criminal cases. But balancing that, obviously, with the safety concerns of the community,” Davis said at the time.

Louisville writer and poet Hannah Drake told WFPL News she felt relief from the outcome of the race.

“Out of all the races, that was the one I was mainly concerned about,” said Drake, who has been vocal about her opposition to Shaw maintaining her judgeship and has advocated for justice for Taylor since her 2020 death. 

“I was determined the minute that I found out about that warrant,” she continued, “one to find out who signed it, which we all now know was Mary Shaw, and then to get her off the bench.”

Shaw was first elected in 2006. In 2014, she ran for the seat again unopposed. In this election, she was endorsed by Citizens for Better Judges and the Jefferson County FOP Presidents Council.

Drake said Davis’ win is significant for the city of Louisville, but she doesn’t believe it will help open up a path for healing.

“I never look at these like a glass-half-full situation. Breonna Taylor should be alive,” she said. “To me this isn’t a pathway to healing. This is a pathway to justice. My focus right now is not how do we heal this community. There are other people in leadership that need to focus on that. We didn’t break what happened in this city.”   

Drake does hope, however, this signifies a shift in people paying more attention to judicial races going forward and seeing the role that they have in residents’ lives.

“I think people understand the significance of being a judge,” Drake said. “You don’t just put people on the bench that will not scrutinize a warrant… I think people understood that job holds some weight.”  

This story has been updated with additional information. Rebecca Feldhaus Adams contributed to this reporting.

Lily is an investigative reporter for LPM. Email Lily at lburris@lpm.org.