Defense attorneys ask Kentucky Chief Justice to remove Louisvill - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Defense attorneys ask Kentucky Chief Justice to remove Louisville judge from arraignment court

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Louisville Public Defender’s office has asked Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton to prohibit Jefferson District Court Judge Sandra McLaughlin from handling arraignment for any defendants because of alleged misconduct.

The office claims McLaughlin has committed judicial misconduct and violated state law by refusing to give eligible inmates a $100-a-day credit toward their bond for every day served.

The attorneys point to a conversation McLaughlin had in her court on Monday, after public defenders had filed a motion accusing district court judges of violating House Bill 463 regarding bond credit. 

“What are they saying now?” McLaughlin asked shortly before her arraignment docket began 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.

Public defender Jay Lambert said during a court hearing Friday that McLaughlin “pre-determined,” before arraignments began, that she wouldn’t be giving anyone the bail credit.

“This is as reprehensible as anything I’ve seen in 35 years,” Lambert told Circuit Court Judge Brian Edwards. "Completely unethical."

The public defender’s office has also asked Chief Jefferson District Court Judge David Holton to remove McLaughlin while Minton considers the case.

A hearing has been scheduled in front of Holton on Wednesday. Holton is scheduled to handle arraignment court next week. Holton said he could not comment on the issue because it is a pending case. At arraignment, defendants are read the charges against them, enter a plea and given a bond or released on their own recognizance.

The public defender's office, which represents defendants who cannot afford an attorney, has filed writs for 17 inmates in total, asking Edwards to order them released from Metro Corrections because they were being "unlawfully detained." All but four of those cases are now moot because the defendants have been convicted or are no longer in jail.

Edwards said he would rule early next week.

The County Attorney’s office is arguing that district judges reviewed the cases and used "proper discretion" in setting bonds.

Prosecutors did not address the allegations against McLaughlin in court Friday, saying her statements are not the focus of the case before Edwards. In addition, the county attorney's office noted that it does not represent McLaughin and she should be given an opportunity to respond to the allegations.

Susan Ely, head of the county attorney's criminal division, told Edwards that in the cases involving McLaughlin, she provided proper reasons for denying bail credit.

Judges are allowed to deny bail credit if a defendant is a flight risk or a danger to others, among other circumstances.

McLaughlin has not returned a phone message to her cell phone seeking comment.

The public defender’s office is claiming McLaughlin is biased and "has never been known to grant bail credit in even a single instance” until this week, after the video went public. The defense attorneys are accusing the judge of misconduct for allegedly lying to defendants about why they were not being given bail credit, since she had already decided against it. 

In its motion asking that McLaughlin be removed from handling arraignments, the public defender’s office noted that the judge was publicly reprimanded fin 2014 or 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."

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.

"To the extent this is not her first time acting in a manner inconsistent with her judicial obligations, this too should be weighed against her in assessing bias," according to the motion. 

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