UPDATE: Prosecutor suspended while County Attorney's office investigates conduct
The suspension of Assistant Jefferson County Attorney Karl Price follows new details on his conduct in court
Wednesday, June 3rd 2015, 12:03 PM EDT
LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) -- Just a day after being criticized for being too lenient on a prosecutor accused of making derogatory comments, the Jefferson County Attorney's office has suspended the prosecutor in light of new allegations.
County Attorney Mike O'Connell on Thursday suspended prosecutor Karl Price without pay pending a review of "disturbing" conduct cited in an article by Courier-Journal reporter Andrew Wolfson.
"That article references specific instances of conduct by you in Arraignment Court which are quite disturbing to me and this office," O'Connell wrote in a letter to Price, obtained under the Kentucky Open Records Act.
The newspaper article included several examples from arraignments in April and May that show Price appearing to disparage defendants. In some of the cases, Price was admonished for the comments by a judge.
O'Connell said Price would be on leave pending "an independent review" of the examples cited in the newspaper article.
Earlier this week, the County Attorney's Office reprimanded Price and ordered him to go to sensitivity training for making "insensitive and derogatory" comments about the family that owns Hwang's Martial Arts Academy.
On May 22, while working a civil case in his private practice, Price wrote a letter to an attorney representing Hwang's, calling the family "greedy foreigners who simply did not understand simple contract relations," according to a disciplinary letter released Wednesday.
In the May 22 letter,
, Price also wrote that the Asian-American owners of Hwang's were "relying on some Asian principal" for not agreeing to settle the case.
In his June 2 disciplinary letter to Price, County Attorney Mike O'Connell also
, in which the prosecutor said he didn't believe the comments he made were derogatory.
"I thought that was an appropriate reference to them, because I don't know them to be American citizens," Price said of repeatedly calling the Hwang's foreigners. "Some of these individuals (at Hwang's) may be illegal aliens."
O'Connell wrote that Price told him he made the comments in response to his belief that the Hwang's and their attorney had “improperly racially stereotyped" his clients.
But O'Connell said that "no matter what the reason nor the impetus for your making these comments, they are insensitive and derogatory."
And even though Price was not working as a prosecutor when he sent the letter, O'Connell said they still reflected poorly on the county attorney's office.
When O'Connell and Price met on June 1, according to the letter, Price apologized for the statements.
"While I sympathize with your explanation as to why you made these comments, your comments were discriminatory on their face and can never be justified," O'Connell wrote.
Price, who has worked for the county attorney's office for about 25 years, was given a written reprimand and must attend sensitivity training.
"Based on your period service with this office, I am confident you will never again make such inappropriate statements," O'Connell wrote.
In 2009, The Courier-Journal reported that Price was accused of calling a defendant a homophobic slur, according to a public defender.
There are no other disciplinary actions in Price's personnel file.
When reached by phone at his office Wednesday, Price declined to comment.
Mimi Hwang, one of the owners of Hwang's, said in a statement:
Given the fact that Karl Price is an experienced attorney who is obviously intelligent and well-versed in the law, as well as a minority, he should full well comprehend the importance of diversity. Therefore, any statements which he made in his May 22, 2015 letter were deliberate and calculated to incite fear, intimidation and racial discord. Once contacted by Insider Louisville and given an opportunity to apologize and walk back his statements, Mr. Price instead deliberately chose to throw more fuel on the fire by further demeaning and defaming our family and its business.
I have just been made aware through media reports that the Jefferson County Attorney's Office has issued Mr. Price a letter of reprimand with respect to this comments and actions. From this letter, it is clear that Mr. Price has made statements in attempting to defend his actions which claim that my family's business and our corporate attorney employed racial bias in dealing with his client. Such statements are false or were made by Mr. Price with a reckless disregard for the truth. My family's company has an exemplary record with respect to racial diversity, and I find the minimal discipline imposed upon Mr. Price to be both appalling and insulting.
Late Wednesday afternoon, O'Connell's office sent out a statement saying the disciplinary action taken against Price came after a thorough review and took into account his "25-year-history of exemplary work as a prosecutor."
"Our office believes in second chances and this discipline is reflective of that."
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