Ky. chief justice declines to remove judge handling Marshall County school shooting case
In an order filed Wednesday, Minton rejected a motion by Marshall County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office to remove Circuit Court Judge James T. Jameson on allegations he interceded in the case before he was appointed judge.
LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton has questioned some of the actions of the judge presiding over the case of a 15-year-old student charged with murder in last month’s high school shooting in Benton, Ky., but Minton declined a motion by prosecutors to remove him.
In an order filed Wednesday, Minton rejected a request by the Marshall County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office to remove Circuit Court Judge James T. Jameson on allegations he improperly interceded in the case before he was assigned the case.
Prosecutors argued Jameson appointed an attorney for Gabe Parker and sent a text message to an officer with the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office regarding the appointment, which was seen as an attempt to stop investigators from questioning the teen.
Those actions, prosecutors told Minton, “made Judge Jameson a potential witness and disqualifies him from further presiding over this case due to an 'inescapable appearance of impropriety.'"
Jameson argued prosecutors were aware of his actions and did not object at the time. And he argued prosecutors did not explain why his actions would necessitate he be a witness in the case.
Minton ruled, given the limited facts, that it doesn’t appear Jameson has done anything prompting the need to disqualify the judge at this point.
However, Minton wrote "there is an in issue" of whether Jameson had jurisdiction over the case when he appointed a public defender for Parker. But the chief justice said that issue in currently pending before the state court of appeals and not an immediate factor for him to consider.
Several media outlets have alleged Judge Jameson “acted outside of his jurisdiction” and made legal errors in his handling the case. Parker is accused of killing two of his classmates and injuring 18.
Parker has been indicted on two counts of murder and 14 counts of assault after he allegedly opened fire with a handgun at Marshall County High School shortly before 8 a.m. on January 23.
The Paxton Media organizations claimed in motions to the Kentucky Appeals Court that Jameson arraigned Parker as an adult in closed session – a violation of accepted court rules – and has violated state law by refusing to release a record of the arraignment hearing once it finished.
But Jameson said state law requires the case of a juvenile to be closed until after the indictment and arraignment. And other “factual claims” by the news organizations “have come from a source that has not been identified” and “are inaccurate, uninformed, and misleading,” according to Jameson's response, written by attorneys Randy Blankenship and Kent Westberry.
The news organizations had filed a separate complaint that alleged Jameson and Parker’s mother are acquainted, and that the judge sought to stop a detective’s interview of the alleged shooter, according to the Paducah Sun.
Jameson responded that he has no relationship with Parker’s mother, knowing her only as a local newspaper reporter.
And Jameson said he did not prevent investigators from questioning Parker. The judge said he was approached by the public defender’s office and told that police were interrogating Parker without an attorney present. The office was assigned to represent Parker, and Jameson called police to inform them that Parker had an attorney.
“Law enforcement sent an unsolicited text response” to the judge saying “the child had ended the interrogation by requesting an attorney,” according to Jameson’s response.
When Parker was arraigned, defense attorneys questioned Parker’s competency and challenged the transfer of the teen to adult court, asking that all records be sealed until the judge ruled, according to Jameson.
The judge has given both sides time to file motions on the issue and said he will rule by March 12. The case will be closed until then.
The media has also alleged that Jameson issued an “unconstitutional gag order” that bans attorneys from discussing the case outside of court – even aspects that already are publicly known.
Attorneys for Jameson said the gag order was issued before the arraignment because prosecutors were talking to the media about the defense raising a possible issue.
But Jameson said he lifted the gag order after the arraignment.
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