Louisville Judge Olu Stevens drops federal lawsuit against state - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Louisville Judge Olu Stevens drops federal lawsuit against state

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens has asked a judge to dismiss a federal lawsuit he filed against the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission, which is investigating the judge for judicial misconduct.

The lawsuit had claimed the disciplinary arm of the judicial branch was trying to improperly punish the controversial judge.

On Thursday, an attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who is representing Stevens, requested the lawsuit be dismissed with both sides paying their own costs and fees.

The attorney, Ian Mance, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment. Stevens has told his staff he does not speak with the media. 

The lawsuit, filed in March in U.S. District Court, alleged that the commission was violating the judge's First Amendment rights by planning to "sanction, suspend or remove" Stevens from the bench for comments he has made about judges, prosecutors and citizens. 

The suit had requested that a federal judge prohibit the conduct commission from imposing sanctions on Stevens.

Stevens has been on paid leave at least until the commission conducts a hearing on six judicial misconduct charges on Monday. Other judges are handling Stevens' cases while he is off the bench.

Steve Wolnitzek, head of the Judicial Conduct Commission, said the dismissal of the suit by Stevens is not indicative of any deal in the works.  

"I'll be there Monday," he said.

The commission formally charged Stevens in April with six counts of "misconduct" for his treatment of victims who came before him and public comments the judge made about prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The commission can suspend, remove or sanction the judge, if members find him guilty.

On April 5, Stevens asked the commission to dismiss the charges against him, arguing the investigation and possible disciplinary actions are a violation of his First Amendment rights and he has a duty to discuss what he feels is the systemic exclusion of black citizens on juries.

The state Judicial Conduct Commission is investigating Stevens, in part, for insinuating on Facebook that Jefferson Commonwealth's Attorney Thomas Wine is racist and wanted "all-white juries."

Stevens has criticized Wine and his office repeatedly 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. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the issue. In the lawsuit, Stevens said the case in front of the high court should be captioned, "Commonwealth V. All Black Defendants."

In his lawsuit, Stevens said Kentucky "has a history of racism within its criminal justice system and jury selection system" and the lack of diversity on juries has "remained unaddressed" by prosecutors.

Other attorneys representing Stevens, Larry Wilder and J. Bart McMahon, dropped out of the case recently.

In the suit, Stevens said his comments were not a violation of judicial canons and the judge "has a First Amendment right to speak on such matters fraught with public concern."

Stevens also questioned the actions of defense attorneys and others who "remained silent" while Wine "pursued a course of action that was racially discriminatory in its intent and impact," according to the lawsuit.

His comments, according to the suit, were true and "the truth may not be punished, either criminally or civilly."

A judge does not "check his first amendment rights at the courthouse door" and punishing Stevens would have a chilling effect on Kentucky citizens, the suit claims.

The lawsuit named as defendants the members of the Judicial Conduct Commission: Wolnitzek, Janet Stumbo, Eddy Coleman, Karen Thomas, Diane Logsdon, Joyce King Jennings, Jeffrey Walson, Kent Westberry, David Bowles and Jeff Taylor.

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