Higher court rules District Court judge can punish local prosecu - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Higher court rules District Court judge can punish local prosecutors

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LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – A Jefferson District Court judge who has long clashed with County Attorney Mike O’Connell is allowed to punish prosecutors who file motions asking her to force the defense to make requests to suppress evidence at least 30 days before trial. 

The County Attorney's office had filed a petition in Jefferson Circuit Court asking a higher judge to prohibit Judge Stephanie Pearce Burke from punishing prosecutors who continue to file the motion, as she has threatened to do.

But Circuit Court Judge Mary Shaw denied that request, ruling last month that “the imposition of sanctions by Judge Burke is allowable after a case-by-case analysis” of the motions and conduct by the prosecutor.

And Shaw ruled that defense attorneys may make a motion to suppress evidence at any time before or during a trial, as state law “must take priority over any hardship faced by a prosecutor.”

On June 17, the county attorney’s office filed notice that it would appeal Shaw’s ruling.

Last year, in hopes of stopping what O'Connell has called a "despicable practice" by defense attorneys, his office began asking judges to force the defense to file motions to suppress evidence before a trial begins and jeopardy attaches, meaning prosecutors are prohibited from trying the defendant again for the same crime.

But in November, Burke told WDRB she had a standing order denying the motions by prosecutors because the rules of criminal procedure allow the defense to ask to suppress evidence at any time.

"We cannot change the rules of evidence," Burke said in an interview at the time.  "We must adhere to the rules as they are."

Judge Shaw agreed, finding that the Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled that motions to suppress evidence can be made “anytime."

On Feb. 11, 2014, according to court documents, Burke wrote that any further motions would be a violation of local criminal rules and prosecutors would be sanctioned.

"I have put you on notice that if you continue to ask, I will sanction you accordingly," Burke said during a court hearing, according to the petition filed by the county attorney's office.

While other judges have granted the suppression motions, Burke is not bound by those orders, Shaw ruled.

The county attorney's office has not been making the motions in Burke's court, according to spokesperson Jessie Halladay.

The suppression motions began about a year after O'Connell wrote to district court judges complaining about what he called "disingenuous maneuvering" by defense lawyers in drunken driving cases.  He said the motions to suppress evidence should come before trial, as long as the defense knows about the issue, giving the prosecution an opportunity to appeal the ruling if necessary.

In the letter from December 2012, O'Connell asked judges to address what he called "a very serious and unnecessary situation" by changing local court rules to bar the tactic.

On Dec. 12, 2013, O'Connell wrote Chief District Judge Ann Bailey Smith about changing the local court rules in connection with these pre-trial motions.

O'Connell's office has also asked the state Supreme Court to amend the criminal rule to require motions to suppress evidence be made at least 20 days prior to trial.

Last week, the Supreme Court had a public hearing on the proposed rule changes. A ruling is expected this Fall.

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