Civil Rights

Judge sues judicial conduct commission claiming 1st Amendment right to criticize system on Facebook

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A Kentucky judge has gone on the offensive in a battle with prosecutors over the racial composition of juries in the Louisville area, filing a federal lawsuit seeking to block a potential judicial ethics sanction on First Amendment grounds.

In his Friday complaint (PDF), Jefferson Circuit Judge Olu Stevens seeks a court order barring the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission from proceeding with an ethics case concerning the judge’s public comments about the issue, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal and WDRB. The complaint names the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission and individual members as defendants.

Stevens asserts an alleged First Amendment right to speak publicly, in Facebook posts and speeches, about “a history of racism” in the Kentucky criminal justice and jury selection system and a lack of diversity that, he says, has not been dealt with by those in charge and is a “matter of public concern.”

Seating all-white or almost entirely all-white juries has a “disproportionate and disparate impact on black defendants, is an issue of public concern and Judge Stevens has a constitutionally protected First Amendment right to address it,” the suit says. “This right cannot be censored or sanctioned in any way.”

The articles don’t include any comments by the defendants.

Related coverage: “New Facebook post by judge on lack of jury diversity sparks new recusal motion” “Appeals court stops case mid-trial, in latest judge-prosecutor dispute over jury diversity”

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