Metro Council president and County Attorney spar in court over L - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Metro Council president and County Attorney spar in court over LMPD sex abuse lawsuit

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Jefferson County Attorney Mike O'Connell and Louisville Metro Council President David Yates spar verbally in court. Jefferson County Attorney Mike O'Connell and Louisville Metro Council President David Yates spar verbally in court.

LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – Metro Council President David Yates and County Attorney Michael O’Connell engaged in a bitter and often heated battle in court Friday over whether Yates should be disqualified from serving as attorney for an alleged victim in the Louisville Metro Police Explorer program sex abuse lawsuit.

Metro Government and the LMPD subpoenaed Yates earlier this week requiring him to testify on whether his role as council president is a conflict that prohibits him from suing the city.

Yates repeatedly sought to separate his role as an attorney from that council president, while also maintaining that he was stepping up to right a wrong that has been hushed up in Louisville for years.

“You know what, little old me filed this lawsuit and it has all been exposed,” Yates said, adding he has helped uncover "one of the worst cover-ups in history” that had not been prosecuted.

“Are you done?” O’Connell shot back. At another time, O’Connell asked Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman to prohibit Yates from giving “speeches.”

McDonald-Burkman stepped in a few times, once to tell Yates to stop questioning O’Connell from his seat on the witness stand. But for the most part, the judge let the two government officials go at each other during an extraordinary hearing.

After hours of testimony, McDonald-Burkman continued the hearing until October.

The victim in the lawsuit, identified only as "N.C." claims former Officers Kenneth Betts and Brandon Wood sexually abused him while he was a teen in the department's youth Explorer program between 2011 and 2013.

In addition, police officials are accused of concealing evidence of the conduct by intimidation, destruction of evidence, deletion of information and refusal to comply with the Kentucky Open Records Act, as well as a conspiracy to cover up the wrongdoing, according to the suit. 

N.C. is suing Metro government, the police department, Wood, Betts, retired Maj. Curtis Flaherty and the Boy Scouts of America.

Yates said he did not learn of the alleged abuse of teens in the Explorer program though his position at the council, but word of mouth in the community and discussions with alleged victims.

“I learned that there had been a lack of investigation” into police abuse allegations “and began digging into that,” Yates testified. “It’s not been a great kept secret. There was nicknames, Father Flaherty, and all these things related to the Explorer program that there had been an investigation that was shut down.”

O’Connell continually tried to argue that Yates used his position as council president to convince a victim to come forward and sue the city.

O’Connell showed a series of Facebook messages between the alleged victim in which Yates offered his legal services and made reference to his “unique position.” O’Connell says that position referred to his role on the council.

But Yates said he was referring instead to his time as a prosecutor with the Kentucky Attorney's General's office, helping to write sex abuse legislation, prosecuting defendants in abuse cases and representing victims in civil litigation. In addition, he said, his own youth basketball coach sexually abused children.

“My unique position is the empathy and understanding that I bring, in addition to practicing law and the skill set,” he said, adding that he has talked with many police officers about these allegations.

As a member of the Metro Council, a settlement in the case would be a conflict for Yates because he votes on the city budget, which funds lawsuit settlements, O’Connell has argued.

"Isn't this like suing yourself?" O'Connell asked Yates at one point. 

And O’Connell pointed out that the day after the lawsuit was filed on March 9, Yates proposed a “confidential settlement demand” with the city for $6 million.

Asked if he doesn't have a "fiduciary duty" to the city as president of the council, Yates responded that he does not have a duty to participate in the "cover-up of children being raped."

"My duty is not to government in general," he said. "My duty as a legislator is to do the right thing."

Yates added, "the constituents that I represent have never been more proud of me."

St. Mary’s law professor Vincent Johnson, who was not paid for his opinion, also testified Friday for the county attorney’s office, saying he had “never seen a situation like this before.”

Johnson said Yates has access to information regular attorneys and citizens don’t and it would be a “whopping breach of (his) fiduciary duties” to sue the city he represents.

Yates's witnesses, including Louisville attorney Peter Ostermiller, who defends lawyers in bar disciplinary cases, did not testify Friday. Yates has also cited a letter from attorney Deborah Kent, who was retained by Yates to advise him on any possible conflict.

Kent, former general counsel for the Louisville Metro Ethics Commission, concludes that any complaint against Yates for a conflict would be “dismissed for lack of probable cause,” according to her letter.

And a Kentucky Bar Association opinion, from March, concludes Yates' representation is "permissible" but noted the "possibility of lack of understanding by the public," a fact which "deserves serious consideration."

On Thursday, Yates filed a second lawsuit on behalf of another alleged victim, accusing Betts of raping the former Explorer. That lawsuit is currently sealed.

Wood has been indicted on seven counts of sexual abuse with one alleged victim, a juvenile, stemming from incidents in 2011 and 2012.

Betts was charged with two counts of sodomy involving two different alleged victims. The indictment alleges Betts engaged in "deviate sexual intercourse" with one of the victims through the use of "forcible compulsion" over a five-month period in 2007.

And Betts is accused of committing sodomy on July 26, 2013 with a minor "he came into contact with as a result" of his position as a police officer.

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