Defense attorneys say video shows district judge saying she won’ - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Defense attorneys say video shows district judge saying she won’t follow bail law

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- After hearing that the Louisville Public Defender’s office had claimed judges are violating state law by not giving eligible inmates a $100-a-day credit toward their bond for every day served, one district court judge is accused of saying from the bench that she wouldn’t be following the law. 

“What are they saying now?” Jefferson District Court Judge Sandra McLaughlin asked during her morning docket Monday, referring to a court motion filed by the defense attorneys. 

“They’re trying to get more people to do bail credits,” a woman sitting near the judge responds, according to a video of the hearing. 

“Well, that’s not going to happen,” McLaughlin said.

The public defender’s office included the exchange and a video of the conversation as a supplement to a motion filed last week in Jefferson Circuit Court, claiming the district judges have violated 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.

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

Circuit Judge Brian Edwards has not yet ruled on the case, which is down to three inmates after the others had their cases resolved or were released from jail. However, the public defender's office has requested the judge add three more defendants who were not given bail credit this week. 

Susan Ely, head of the county attorney's criminal division, told Edwards earlier this week that the district judges reviewed the cases properly and used "proper discretion" in setting bonds.

In the new filing late Wednesday, the office takes aim only at McLaughlin, claiming she is biased and "has never been known to grant bail credit in even a single instance."

During her docket on Oct. 3, McLaughlin didn’t grant bail credit to any of the defendants that came before her, the public defender’s office claims.

McLaughlin did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment. 

In 2014, McLaughlin was publicly reprimanded for making "inappropriate comments from the bench," bringing her impartiality into question.

The Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission issued the reprimand for comments that were "unnecessary, undignified and inconsistent with the presumption of innocence."

McLaughlin has been under fire in the past for her actions on the bench. In August 2014, a national blog called her "possibly the worst judge alive" after a story by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting pointed out that McLaughlin was not only the lowest-rated judge in the county, but had repeatedly belittled people who came before her and refused to provide public defenders for some indigent defendants.

The public defender's office is accusing district judges 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.

The attorneys claim that 9,450 defendants were eligible for the bail credit last year, but judges granted it less than two percent of the time. 

Judges are allowed to deny the 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.

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 court records filed Wednesday allege McLaughlin did not ask any defendants about their ability to post bond. 

Chief District Court Judge David Holton said earlier this week he has begun to ask inmates about their ability to post bond before deciding on an amount.

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

But he declined to discuss the case or whether other judges have followed his lead. 

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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