Legal Ethics

Judge publicly reprimanded for jailing domestic-violence witness who recanted

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A Louisville judge who admitted that she made a mistake when she ordered a balking witness in a domestic violence case jailed without a hearing last year should be publicly reprimanded, a Kentucky legal ethics panel has decided.

In determining the penalty, the Judicial Conduct Commission said it took into account Jefferson District Judge Sheila Collins’ good reputation and the large number of lawyers who submitted affidavits in her support, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal and WDRB.

However, it wrote, Collins crossed a clear boundary and “should never have directed the sheriff to take this witness into custody and to charge the witness with a crime. That is not the role of the judiciary.”

At a June 2015 hearing, the judge ordered witness Jasmine Stone, who was not represented by a lawyer, charged with filing a false report and incarcerated. The 21-year-old Stone changed her story from what she had earlier told a Louisville police officer. Photographs supported her initial claims of being injured in a domestic violence incident.

Stone was released after about six hours by another judge, who set aside the $10,000 bond Collins had imposed and apologized.

Counsel for Collins had argued that the commission had no jurisdiction to sanction a judge for an erroneous ruling made in good faith.

After the public reprimand was announced Friday, the judge’s lawyer Stephen Ryan said she is disappointed by the ruling, although she acknowledges her mistake. Ryan cited his client’s “impeccable record” as an attorney and judge over a 40-year period, WDRB reports.

Related coverage: “Judge faces ethics case after jailing woman who recanted domestic violence claims”

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