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Kentucky Chief Justice declines to remove Louisville Judge Sandra McLaughlin

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton Jr. on Thursday declined to remove Jefferson District Court Judge Sandra McLaughlin from handling arraignment for any defendants.

The Louisville Public Defender’s office had asked Minton to remove McLaughlin for alleged misconduct, arguing she was violating state law by refusing to give eligible inmates a $100-a-day credit toward their bond for every day served.

In his one-page ruling, Minton found that the office had “failed to demonstrate any disqualifying circumstances that would require the appointment of a special judge.”

Earlier this week, Chief District Court Judge David Holton also declined to remove McLaughlin, saying he “has no role in the recusal process," according to a memo he sent to both sides. 

McLaughlin is next scheduled to be in arraignment court on Monday.

"Needless to say, we are disappointed and somewhat at a loss to understand how a judge who refuses to follow the law concerning Pretrial release can be permitted to continue to preside in Arraignment Court," said attorney Jay Lambert, with the public defender's office. "For so long as she continues to ignore the law, we will continue raising the issue and pursue it on appeal."

McLaughlin has not returned a phone message seeking comment.

The public defender’s office, which represents defendants who cannot afford an attorney, had pointed Minton to a conversation McLaughlin had in her court last week, after the office 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, referring the court motion.

“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."

At arraignment, defendants are read the charges against them, enter a plea and are given a bond or released on their own recognizance.

Meanwhile, Edwards has not yet ruled on four writs asking that defendants be released from Metro Corrections because they were being “unlawfully restrained."

The motions claim district court judges have violated the constitutional amendments as well as requirements from House Bill 463, meant to release more inmates on a manageable bail to help ease jail overcrowding.

Edwards had said he would rule early this week.

Prosecutors have not addressed the allegations against McLaughlin, saying her statements are not the focus of the case before Edwards.

Susan Ely, head of the county attorney's criminal division, has told Edwards that district judges are properly denying bail credits.

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

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 the video of her comments 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."

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