Kentucky judge off cases after criticizing prosecutor over juries

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 19, 2015 3:48 PM

By Steve Bittenbender

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Reuters) - A black Kentucky judge has been thrown off two criminal cases after he criticized on social media a white prosecutor, who now wants to keep the judge from trying criminal cases.

Judge Olu Stevens was disqualified by the chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court after he posted comments on Facebook about Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine, a state spokeswoman said on Thursday.

Stevens dismissed an all-white jury in a case last year after a black defendant complained about the panel. That jury came from a pool of 41 people and only one was black. The black population of Jefferson county is about 21.5 percent, including in Louisville where the judge is based, according to a Census Bureau 2014 estimate.

The defendant was later found not guilty by a jury that included four black jurors. Wine has since asked the state to look into whether Stevens’ action was appropriate.

“History will unfavorably judge a prosecutor who loses a jury trial in which a black man is acquitted and then appeals the matter claiming his entitlement to an all white jury panel,” Stevens said in a Facebook post dated Nov. 12. “No matter the outcome, he will live in infamy.”

In a statement on his website, Wine denied that assertion and said his office strives for diversity. However, he said he believes the system used to seat local juries is fair.

“This practice of setting aside a properly empanelled jury has been adopted in only one of the over 200 trial courts in the Commonwealth and is worthy of review,” Wine said.

Wine asked for the state to remove Stevens from two cases to which he had been assigned, and Chief Justice John D. Minton, Jr. agreed on Tuesday, according to Leigh Anne Hiatt, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts.

Hiatt said Minton had received an additional motion late on Wednesday to bar Stevens from trying any criminal case. However, Minton was attending a conference and likely would not rule on the matter until next week, she said.

(Reporting by Steve Bittenbender Editing by Ben Klayman)