Louisville judge accused of misconduct for locking up alleged domestic violence victim
In her answer to the Judicial Conduct Commission, Jefferson District Court Judge Sheila Collins “categorically denies” any misconduct.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Jefferson District Court Judge Sheila Collins is facing possible disciplinary action after the state Judicial Conduct Commission charged her with misconduct for locking up an alleged victim of domestic violence without providing her an attorney or holding a hearing.
The commission notified Collins on Jan. 11 that she had violated the code of judicial conduct. And the judge responded on Jan. 29, saying she "categorically denies" any misconduct, according to records make public on Monday.
However, in an interview, Stephen Ryan, an attorney representing the judge, acknowledged she was wrong in ordering a deputy to charge the alleged victim with false swearing. Prosecutors and police are responsible for charging a person with a crime, Ryan said. Collins instead should have held the woman in contempt, he said.
"She made a mistake," Ryan said.
The commission can reprimand, suspend or even remove Collins from the bench if the misconduct is proven. A hearing date has not yet been set.
During a June 11 bond reduction hearing for Lomac Jeter, who was accused of assaulting his girlfriend, Jasmine Stone, Stone told Collins she made up the story, changing the statements she gave to a police officer.
When Stone also denied an earlier sworn statement that she is pregnant, Judge Collins ordered a deputy to take her into custody and charge her with false swearing, over the objection of prosecutors. The judge set Stone's bond at $10,000 cash. And Collins "later refused to lower the bond even upon learning that Mr. Jeter had contacted Ms. Stone and pressured her to recant," according to the notice of charges by the conduct commission.
"Your actions violated Ms. Stone’s due process rights inasmuch as you took her into custody without holding a hearing, without advising her of her rights prior to questioning and without appointing an attorney to represent her," according to the commission.
At the time, Collins’ actions drew a rare rebuke from another sitting judge, Jefferson District Court Judge Erica Williams, who called the action to lock up an alleged victim of domestic violence "outrageous" and "unprecedented."
"This shouldn't happen in court," Williams said to Stone as she dismissed the case in June. "What happened to you is, quite frankly, outrageous. I'm appalled at what happened to you. I'm appalled at how you were treated. …What happened to you should never, ever happen to a victim."
Williams apologized to Stone, saying it was "disgusting" how she was treated and "I'm really trying to contain my temper on this.
"I understand frustration happens on the bench but that does not mean you take it out on anyone else," Williams said of Collins. "If you are having a bad day, step off."
In her answer to the Judicial Conduct Commission, Collins’s attorney, Stephen Ryan, denied that the judge "became upset" and maintained that Stone lied to the court.
"Contrary to the assertions in the Formal Charges, there was no protest by any public advocate," Ryan wrote. "There was no protest by the attorney who proffered her as a witness. There was barely an objection by the Assistant County Attorney."
About an hour after the hearing, Ryan said a prosecutor asked Collins to reconsider her ruling, saying Stone may have been threatened by Jeter and ordered to lie. Collins said she would reconsider her ruling if the prosecutor could provide proof of the threat. The prosecutor admitted she did not at the time have the tapes and would have to bring them to court the next morning, Ryan wrote in his answer.
"If the witness’s due process rights were violated in this instance, said violation was totally unintentional and without malice," Ryan wrote. "Judge Collins, in good faith, believed that the proper way to handle the witness’s statements about her intentional lies was to have her charged with false swearing. Judge Collins acknowledges that it was her mistake not holding the witness in contempt of court, with the judge had every right to do."
The judge "categorically denies that her actions constitute misconduct," Ryan wrote.
In an interview, Ryan said Collins has had a "stellar career as both a lawyer and a judge" without a substantiated complaint in 35 years.
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