Internet Law

Judge's Facebook comments merit his removal from all criminal cases, prosecutors contend

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Prosecutors are seeking the removal of a Kentucky judge from hearing all criminal cases because of his Facebook comments about a challenge to one of his decisions.

Prosecutors are citing online comments by Judge Olu Stevens in which he criticized a prosecution appeal that contests his authority to toss jury panels for a lack of minorities, report the Louisville Courier Journal, WAVE3 and WDRB. The Wall Street Journal Law Blog notes the controversy.

Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine initially asked Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton Jr. to remove Stevens from two criminal cases, and Minton granted that request on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Wine asked Minton to expand the order to include Minton’s removal from all criminal cases prosecuted by the office.

Stevens’ comments concerned a petition (PDF) by Wine’s office that asks the Kentucky Supreme Court to decide whether Stevens had the authority to dismiss juries based on racial composition when there is no evidence of systemic exclusion by race.

Stevens recently criticized the appeal on Facebook. According to Wine’s affidavit, Stevens wrote. “Going to the Kentucky Supreme Court to protect the right to impanel all-white juries is not what we need to be in 2015.”

Stevens also reportedly wrote: “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. No matter the outcome, he will live in infamy.”

Wine says that, rather than advocating all-white juries, his office merely wants to select juries according to Supreme Court rules. In an affidavit filed with the Kentucky Supreme Court, Wine wrote that Stevens has “presumed to tell the world through social media that my actions were dictated by discriminatory attitudes.” That suggestion, Wine writes, “not only offends me, but leads me to reasonably conclude that Judge Stevens cannot be fair and impartial on cases in which I or my assistants are involved.”

Prosecutors asked the chief justice to intervene after Stevens denied a series of motions seeking his recusal. Stevens said he could be fair and impartial. He also asked why he didn’t receive a copy of prosecutors’ motion to remove him on Tuesday so he could be prepared to respond, according to the WDRB account.

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