Jefferson County Attorney's office defends district judges accus - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Jefferson County Attorney's office defends district judges accused of improperly detaining inmates

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Jefferson County Attorney's office on Monday defended decisions made by Louisville district court judges who are accused by defense attorneys of unlawfully detaining inmates.

Last week, the Louisville Public Defender's office asked Circuit Court Judge Brian Edwards to release 14 inmates because they were being "unlawfully detained."

The motions claimed district court judges have violated the constitution 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.

But Susan Ely, head of the county attorney's criminal division, told Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Brian Edwards that the district judges reviewed the cases properly and used "proper discretion" in setting bonds.

In the days since the public defenders petitioned for the release of the inmates, 11 are no longer an issue because they are already out of jail for various reasons. In the three remaining cases, Ely said district judges found the men were a danger to the community and their bonds were appropriately set.

Edwards did not make a ruling on Monday but said he would issue a decision soon. 

The district judges are accused of 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.

Defense attorney Jay Lambert told Edwards that of 9,450 defendants eligible for the bail credit last year, judges granted it only 166 times -- or less than two percent. He said district judges simply deny the jail credit to almost every defendant, ruling they are danger to the community.

"It becomes a sham," Lambert said, adding that the judges are not documenting the reasons for the denial, as is required.

In addition, Lambert argued that district judges are failing to consider a defendant's financial ability to post bond in determining release options, which is a constitutional requirement. The public defender's office represents defendants who cannot afford an attorney. 

Ely did not address the alleged widespread systemic abuse by district judges, arguing that Edwards is required to look at the three specific cases in front of him. In those three instances she said, all three men were accused of assault or violating a protective order and the judges clearly stated on the record that they were a danger to others.

Judges are allowed to deny the $100 bail credit if a defendant is a flight risk or a danger to others.

"The record is clear in these three cases that the court exercised proper discretion," Ely said.

Lambert countered that the judges did not document the reasons for not granting bail credit and also didn't inquire into their financial ability to post a bond.

After the hearing, Lambert told reporters the public defender's office would "certainly be open to raising the issue again" for other defendants.

But Lambert told Edwards he hoped his decision in the three cases in front of him would spur changes from the district court judges.

In fact, he said, Chief District Court Judge David Holton had already recently begun to ask inmates about their ability to post bond before deciding on an amount.

Holton acknowledged this, saying a Supreme Court case was brought to his attention "that leads me to believe that such an inquiry is appropriate." 

Holton declined to comment on the case in front of Edwards, saying judges are not ethically allowed to discuss pending cases. 

However, in general, Holton said, "I believe that judges are setting bonds that they believe are appropriate based on the allegations before them and the defendant's criminal record and history of making court dates." 

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