Chief Justice orders Judge Olu Stevens and Tom Wine to mediation - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Chief Justice orders Judge Olu Stevens and Tom Wine to mediation

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton has ordered Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens and Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Wine to go to mediation to try and work out issues the two have over Wine's claim the judge has shown bias against him in Facebook postings.

Earlier this month, Wine had asked Minton to remove Stevens from all of his criminal cases, arguing he has shown he can't be impartial to prosecutors since he insinuated Wine was racist and wanted "all-white juries."

That motion will be held in "abeyance" while Wine and Stevens engage in mediation conducted by a four-person panel designated by Minton.

Minton, who is not commenting, ordered that the mediation must occur by Saturday and the results reported to the chief justice.

"In the interest of avoiding systemic disruption and, more importantly, of restoring confidence in the fair and impartial administration of justice," Minton said he was ordering mediation.

It is unclear if Stevens could continue handling criminal cases before the mediation, but he has been postponing his dockets the last few weeks.

Leigh Anne Hiatt, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the Courts, said the mediators are well known in Jefferson County and have experience as attorneys, judges and community activists. Their names are not being disclosed until after the process has concluded, Hiatt said.

[READ THE ORDER]

Earlier this month, Minton removed Stevens from two cases after the judge had refused requests to step aside. Minton ruled prosecutors had "demonstrated disqualifying circumstances that require the appointment of a special judge."

In his order, Minton noted that there are "similarly disqualifying circumstances" in Wine's latest motion, but said it would be "highly disruptive" for the "justice system as a whole" to remove Stevens from criminal cases.

"The Chief Justice recognizes that the disqualification of any circuit judge from all criminal cases on his or her docket is a decision with significant consequences for our justice system," Minton wrote. "A disqualification order of that magnitude may well delay justice for litigants ... require appointment of special judges or the transfer of the disqualified judge's cases to other courts already confronted with heavy dockets of their own, and leave the disqualified judge unable to perform fully his constitutional duties."

A secretary for Stevens has said he does not grant interviews. His last Facebook post on the issue said, "Thank you to all who have provided prayers and support. I am very appreciative and remain in good spirits. I will remain silent pending the decision of the Chief Justice."

In a statement Wednesday, Wine said he appreciated Minton looking into "this serious matter.

"I reserve further comment until after the mediation has been conducted and the Chief Justice has had a chance to review the mediation report."

Stevens’ Facebook postings came after a WDRB story last month reporting that Wine had asked the state Supreme Court to determine whether the judge was abusing his power by dismissing a jury because he felt it was lacking enough black people.

Stevens has written on Facebook that Wine was going to the Kentucky Supreme Court to “protect the right to impanel all-white juries” and that “is not what we need to be in 2015. Do not sit silently. Stand up. Speak up.”

Wine signaled that his office could work with the judge again, under certain conditions.

“I don’t want to see Judge Stevens off (criminal cases) forever,” Wine said to WDRB last week. “I would love to see Judge Stevens doing his job as a judge in criminal and civil cases. The ball is in his court."

To earn what Wine called a “second chance,” Stevens would need to take down his posts and “perhaps tell his Facebook followers he was wrong to make those comments. I’m not asking that he apologize to me personally. But I think to the community, he owes them an apology.”

Stevens has shown no sign of backing down, though he has not posted as much on Facebook recently.

Minorities long have been being underrepresented on local juries. Several black defendants have complained over the years that they were convicted by an all-white jury - not of their peers.

The Racial Fairness commission -- a group made up of local judges, lawyers and citizens -- has studied the issue for years, monitored the make-up of jury panels and found them consistently lacking in minorities.

For example, in October, 14 percent of potential jurors were black, far below the estimated 21 percent for all residents of Jefferson County, according to records kept by the commission. In September, 13 percent of potential Jefferson County jurors were black.

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