Prosecutors ask chief justice to recuse Louisville Judge Olu Stevens based on 'unjustified' gag order
When Stevens issued the gag order, "he aggressively directed his comments" at prosecutors, Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Wine said in a motion.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Prosecutors are again asking Kentucky’s chief justice to remove Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens from a criminal case, in part because of Stevens' recent actions in issuing an "unjustified" gag order to attorneys during a trial.
On Tuesday, Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine asked Chief Justice John Minton Jr. to remove Stevens from the March 1 trial of Ronald Johnson, who is charged with robbery. Minton, who has removed Stevens from several criminal cases in the last few months, has not yet ruled on the motion.
As part of his motion, Wine cited Stevens' actions in the robbery and assault trial of Charles Evans from earlier this month, when the judge attempted to dismiss a jury panel he felt was not representative of the community and then issued a gag order forbidding attorneys to talk about the case. Stevens also sealed the entire day of testimony in the trial.
When Stevens issued the gag order, "he aggressively directed his comments" at prosecutors and said no one should call the media and "he did not want to see a camera in the courtroom," Wine said in his motion.
Wine called the gag order "unnecessary and unjustified" and wrote that the judge's "aggressive tone of voice and demeanor toward my assistants" showed he could not be impartial in presiding over a trial.
A Kentucky Court of Appeals judge halted the Evans trial until the court could hear arguments about whether Stevens had acted properly in dismissing the jury because of a lack of minorities.
Appeals court Judge Allison Jones also ruled that Stevens showed no reason why the record in the case should be sealed and kept from public view.
Jones did not order Stevens to unseal the case, but the closed hearing is now available for review at the court of appeals in Frankfort.
WDRB filed a motion to unseal the hearing, but Stevens has not heard the motion.
Jefferson County Jury Administrator Janet Irwin and Appeals Court Judge Denise Clayton, head of the Racial Fairness Commission, both testified during the sealed hearing, according to the video.
In his recusal motion, Wine said Stevens questioned the "ethics" of prosecutors, with the judge indicating he believed the commonwealth called Clayton, who is black, to testify so she would be disqualified from reviewing his actions as an appeals court judge. Clayton is the only black judge on the appeals court.
Stevens has not returned repeated phone calls and emails seeking comment.
Stevens has criticized Wine and his office repeatedly since 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. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the issue.
The state Judicial Conduct Commission is investigating Stevens, in part, for insinuating on Facebook that Wine is racist and wanted "all-white juries."
Stevens has refused to recuse himself in criminal cases.
Minton has removed Stevens from some cases but denied a request to disqualify Stevens from all criminal cases, saying it was beyond the scope of his responsibility and, if granted, would essentially amount to removing Stevens from the bench.
While the chief justice has harshly criticized Stevens, he 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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