Louisville judge questioned for dismissing juries based on lack of minorities

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Prosecutors in Jefferson County are once again asking to have Circuit Judge Olu Stevens removed from presiding over criminal cases.

Assistant Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney Jeff Cooke said his office is renewing its effort to have Stevens taken off the cases after the judge and his wife made Facebook posts that violated a settlement agreement reached earlier this month.

Prosecutors made the motion Monday afternoon to set aside the Dec. 5 agreement between Stevens and Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine that ended a dispute over the judge’s previous Facebook posts, which insinuated Wine is racist and wanted “all-white juries.”

Cooke said in an interview that Stevens' post suggests that Wine was attempting to silence the judge.

"The whole idea was to be quiet about this whole thing and I think he has chosen not to," Cooke said.

In addition, Cooke said Stevens' wife had posted about the mediation on Facebook; the negotiations were supposed to be confidential, he said.

Part of the mediation agreement included that both sides should no longer talk about the issues between them on social media. However, in a motion filed Monday to the supreme court, Wine says details of the mediation agreement were discussed with outside parties. 

Wine's motion includes several posts to social media, which he says indicate the mediation agreement was discussed with other people. One post includes messages between Judge Stevens' wife and attorney Brandon Lawrence, which contain strong language and accusations regarding the mediation.

"I heard that you used my friendship with your wife to get access to our Facebook posts to give to Tom Wine. He said so himself tonight, do you deny it?" Stevens wife says in a message. 

Wine says someone communicated with people outside the mediation as it was ongoing, indicating a breach of the mediation agreement. 

Another post by Stevens' wife, Raymonda, used the hashtag #watchyourback, referring to someone she called a "snake." Wine seems to indicate this post is related to Raymonda Stevens' conversation with Brandon Lawrence. 

The motion also includes a post from Dec. 11, purportedly written by Judge Stevens himself on a page called "Support Judge Olu Stevens." In the post Stevens says "their goal became taking my position in order to silence me," in reference to those who sought Stevens' removal from the bench. 

In the post Stevens said, "silence will not make the problem go away. It will only serve to worsen it."

Through his secretary, Stevens has declined repeated requests for interviews.

The most recent post attributed to Stevens appeared last Friday on a "Support Judge Olu Stevens" Facebook page. In it, Stevens allegedly talked about the composition of jury panels being among the "single most important issues facing our criminal justice system" and made a reference to the controversy.

"I believe the concern over my method of communication was always misplaced, purposely by many who sought to distract from the message," the post says.

"Silence will not make the problem go away,” the post says. “It will only serve to worsen it."

On Monday morning, Wine's office made a motion asking Stevens to recuse himself from a criminal case, alleging, in part, that the judge has not complied with the recent mediation agreement.

Stevens denied the motion and continued on with the case.

On Dec. 5, Stevens and Wine reached an agreement in mediation, working out issues the the two had over Wine's claim the judge has shown bias against him in Facebook postings.

Last month, Wine requested Chief Justice John Minton to remove Stevens from all of his criminal cases, arguing he had shown he was unable to be impartial to prosecutors.

During the mediation, both Wine and Stevens acknowledged the other was not a racist. Stevens clarified that his Facebook posts weren't meant to be personal. There was no agreement he would take down his previous Facebook posts.

Stevens "recognizes that Tom Wine does not want all-white juries," according to the agreed order.

And both sides agreed there needs to be more movement towards jury diversity.

Earlier last month, Minton removed Stevens from two cases after the judge had refused requests to step aside. Minton ruled prosecutors had "demonstrated disqualifying circumstances that require the appointment of a special judge."

In his order, Minton noted that there are "similarly disqualifying circumstances" in Wine's latest motion, but said it would be "highly disruptive" for the "justice system as a whole" to remove Stevens from criminal cases.

Stevens’ Facebook postings came after a WDRB story in October reporting that Wine had asked the state Supreme Court to determine whether the judge was abusing his power by dismissing a jury because he felt it was lacking enough black people.

In October, Stevens halted a drug trial and dismissed the entire jury panel, asking for a new group to be sent up because the potential jurors were "not representative of the community."

And on Nov. 18, 2014, after a 13-member jury chosen for a theft trial ended up with no black jurors, Stevens found it “troublesome” and dismissed the panel at the request of a defense attorney.

“There is not a single African-American on this jury and (the defendant) is an African-American man,” Stevens said, according to a video of the trial. “I cannot in good conscience go forward with this jury.”

Stevens has written on Facebook that Wine was going to the Kentucky Supreme Court to “protect the right to impanel all-white juries” and that “is not what we need to be in 2015. Do not sit silently. Stand up. Speak up.”

Minorities long have been being underrepresented on local juries. Several black defendants have complained over the years that they were convicted by an all-white jury - not of their peers.

The Racial Fairness commission -- a group made up of local judges, lawyers and citizens -- has studied the issue for years, monitored the make-up of jury panels and found them consistently lacking in minorities.

For example, in October, 14 percent of potential jurors were black, far below the estimated 21 percent for all residents of Jefferson County, according to records kept by the commission. In September, 13 percent of potential Jefferson County jurors were black.

You can read Wine's full motion to disqualify Judge Stevens hereWarning the motion includes social media posts that contain harsh language. 

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