LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – The Louisville Public Defender’s office has accused Jefferson district court judges of violating state law in setting bonds for hundreds of defendants, resulting in “unlawful detention.”

The office, which represents defendants who cannot afford an attorney, filed writs for 14 inmates Tuesday, asking a Jefferson Circuit Court judge to order them released from Metro Corrections because they are being "unlawfully detained."

The motions filed in Jefferson Circuit Court on Tuesday claim district court judges have violated the constitutional amendments as well as requirements from a Kentucky law passed in 2011 meant to release more inmates on a manageable bail to help ease jail overcrowding.

On Wednesday, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Brian Edwards scheduled a hearing for Monday. 

The Jefferson County Attorney's office, which is representing Metro Corrections, said prosecutors are reviewing the cases. 

"Judges are required to consider a defendant’s potential danger to the community when setting bond," said Josh Abner, a spokesman for the office. "Releasing these defendants without proper review and notifications could potentially endanger citizens.”

The district judges are allegedly ignoring part of House Bill 463 that is supposed to give many inmates a $100-a-day credit toward their bond for every day served, meaning someone with a $500 bond could be released after five days.

The attorneys claim that 9,450 defendants were eligible for the bail credit last year, but judges granted it only 77 times.

“The rates at which defendants in Jefferson County are denied bail credit are so incredibly high that it may be reasonably inferred that no defendants … are receiving genuine consideration for bail credit,” according to the motion, written by public defenders Jay Lambert, Amy Hannah and Adam Braunbeck.

The result, they say, is jail overcrowding and unlawful incarceration.  Louisville Metro Corrections has been forced to open an unsafe 60-year-old jail above police headquarters to house more than 100 inmates.

That old jail has reached capacity at times in the last few months, prompting jail officials to prepare for temporary housing in gyms at Metro Corrections and the Hall of Justice downtown.

Judges are allowed to deny the $100 bail credit if a defendant is a flight risk or a danger to others, among other circumstances. But the public defender’s office claims the judges are too often denying the credit without good reason, representing “an abuse of discretion.”

Under the law, judges are supposed to document a reason for denying bail credit, which is not being done, according to the attorneys.

Often, according to the motion, a pre-trial risk assessment on the inmate had recommended the defendant be released on his own recognizance, or without bail. But those assessments are being ignored, the attorneys said in their motion. 

In addition, the defense attorneys allege that judges are failing to consider a defendant’s financial ability to post bond in determining release options, which is a constitutional requirement.

The state constitution “prohibits absolute and arbitrary power over Kentuckians,” the attorneys wrote. “If this is not the absolute and arbitrary exercise of power, nothing is.”

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