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Louisville Judge Olu Stevens Could Be Kicked Off the Bench While Charges Considered

Posted April 8, 2016

NEWS ANALYSIS

Louisville Judge, Olu Stevens

Louisville Judge, Olu Stevens

(LOUISVILLE, Ky) The state Judicial Conduct Commission wants Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens removed from the bench while they consider six misconduct charges it filed against him.
At the root of the charges, is a long standing dispute between Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine and Judge Stevens. Also, considered was the February 2015 sentencing hearing in which Stevens criticized the parents of a child who claim she was still traumatized when she saw Black men after a home invasion by two Black defendants.
In his response to the charges, Stevens has argued that the counts should be dismissed and cites several defenses, including judicial immunity, conflicts of interest by members of the commission as well as violation of his constitutional rights under the First and 14th amendments.
Importantly, Stevens argues some of his speech was intended to be private and were meant for educational purposes.
The Courier-Journal reported the Judge hiring Louisville attorney Kimberly Bunton and Baltimore attorney Jon Wyndal Gordon, called “The Warrior Lawyer.”
Four of the counts faced are connected to Stevens’ social media or in-person comments about his disagreement with Wine’s decision to ask the Kentucky Supreme Court if a judge had the legal power to dismiss a jury panel if there isn’t evidence of systemic or intentional exclusion.
Wine’s complained after Stevens dismissed a nearly all-white jury panel of 41 prospective jurors at the request of a defense attorney on behalf of an African-American defendant.
Stevens said on Facebook that he dismissed the jury panel because it was a “substantial departure from the racial make-up of the average jury panel” and then accused Wine of being a racist who supported all-white juries.
That case is still pending before the state Supreme Court.
Charges also arise out of a presentation Stevens gave in November 2015 to the Louisville Bar Association in which he made similar comments.
That speech, according to the disciplinary commission, violated ethical codes that require judges to refrain from making public comments about a pending or impending court proceeding “that might reasonably be expected to affect its outcome.”
Another misconduct charge comes out of Stevens’ criticism on Facebook of Louisville’s public defender and criminal defense lawyers for not speaking out in support of him. This act allegedly violated an ethics code that says judges cannot use “the prestige of judicial office to advance private interests of the judge or others,” according to the conduct commission.
Two of the misconduct counts stem from Stevens’ in-court and Facebook comments that criticized a victim impact statement written by parents on behalf of their three-year-old child who were victims of a home invasion and burglary. The parents wrote that the child was in constant fear of African-American men, the same race of the defendants.
In the hearing Stevens said, “I wonder if the perpetrator had been white, would they be in fear of white men? The answer would probably be no. I’m offended by that.”
He went on to say his outrage of the victim statement would not affect his decision at sentencing, he just wanted it as part of the record. He also said he was offended by the crime of perpetrator too.
Stevens again used social media to explain his actions and said the same and in a federal lawsuit filed to prevent the state disciplinary committee from sanctioning him. He said he would be “without integrity to condone such language with silence.”
Now that the commission has filed formal charges an investigative hearing is expected. There has been no public announcement regarding the hearing in which Stevens and his counsel will defend the charges. At that time, the commission could dismiss the charges or impose a sanction.
A hearing to determine whether Stevens will be temporarily removed from the bench with pay has been scheduled for 9 a.m. April 19 at the Jefferson County Judicial Center, 700 W. Jefferson St., Louisville, KY.

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