Kentucky Chief Justice again removes Judge Olu Stevens from criminal case
Judge Stevens removed from sentencing in case where he had dismissed the entire jury panel, asking for a new group to be sent up because the potential jurors were "not representative of the community."
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – For the second time this week, Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton has disqualified embattled Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens from handling a criminal case because of allegations of bias.
On Wednesday, Minton removed Stevens from handling the criminal case of Damon Shanklin, who was set to be sentenced by Stevens this week on a drug and persistent felony offender conviction.
Last October, Stevens halted Shanklin's drug trial and dismissed the entire jury panel, asking for a new group to be sent up because the potential jurors were "not representative of the community."
Before that, Wine asked the Kentucky Supreme Court to decide whether Stevens has the authority to dismiss juries for having too few black members, as the judge has done twice, including the Shanklin case. The state Judicial Conduct Commission is investigating Stevens, in part, for insinuating on Facebook that Wine is racist and wanted "all-white juries."
As part of the most recent request, Wine cited specific comments Stevens made about the Shanklin case on Facebook and in a Nov. 12 presentation the judge gave at a Louisville Bar Association event, "downplaying" the significance of the offense."
"When you don't care for court rulings, you can always run to the press," Stevens wrote in November on Facebook of the Shanklin case, according to Wine's motion. "I had no idea cultivating marijuana was the kind of case that would interest the media."
And Wine claims Stevens tried to pressure prosecutors into offering a sentencing plea to Shanklin of five years in prison - instead of 10 years.
Stevens' Facebook postings came after a WDRB story in October 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.
On the the second day of the Shanklin drug trial on Oct. 14, Stevens said he was concerned that the panel of jurors attorneys were to choose a jury from included 37 white people and only three black citizens. And two of the three potential black jurors had already been eliminated.
The defense attorney, Johnny Porter, suggested ensuring that the lone remaining black member of the panel makes the final jury.
Stevens told both sides about dismissing an all-white jury in a trial a Nov. 18, 2014 trial, how the second panel of jurors he called up included four black citizens and was more representative.
"We've already done this one time," Stevens said at the time. "So right off the bat, you've got a blueprint and we can be a lot more efficient, in theory."
Earlier this week, at the request of prosecutors, Minton disqualified Stevens from presiding over the burglary and theft trial of Tracy Anthony.
Minton ordered Chief Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Charles Cunningham to appoint a special judge to handle both cases, finding that prosecutors had "demonstrated disqualifying circumstances."
Asked on Monday if his office would request Minton to remove Stevens from all criminal trials, Wine would only say that prosecutors would look at it on a "case by case basis."
Prosecutors have repeatedly asked Stevens to recuse himself from criminal cases, arguing comments he has made on Facebook about Wine regarding the race of jurors shows bias. Stevens has refused to recuse himself.
Last month, Minton denied a request to disqualify Stevens from criminal cases, saying it was way beyond the scope of his responsibility and, if granted, would essentially amount to removing Stevens from the bench.
Minton harshly criticized Stevens but referred the request to the Judicial Conduct Commission for possible disciplinary action.
It is unknown when the commission will rule on whether Stevens has violated the code of judicial conduct.
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