After Speaking Out on Racism, Black Kentucky Judge Olu Stevens Sues to Keep His Job

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Judge Olu Stevens (Facebook/New York Daily News)
Judge Olu Stevens (Facebook/New York Daily News)

Judge Olu Stevens of Kentucky filed a lawsuit Friday against the judges and prosecutors who seek to remove him after the Black judge made remarks discussing racism.

Stevens spoke out against the absurdity of a Black defendant having a jury that is all-white when the city is at least 21 percent African-American. The judge, who is one of only three Black Circuit Court judges in Kentucky, declares in the suit that his comments on racism are protected by the First Amendment and are his moral and ethical responsibility as a judge.

No monetary compensation is sought with the suit. Instead, Stevens only wishes to stop the actions of the state against him. He also wants a declarative statement  explaining that judges still have a First Amendment right to free speech, according to the New York Daily News.

Steven’s lawyer, Larry Wilder, gave the following statement to the Daily News:

“There is a reason that Free Speech is the 1st Amendment to our Constitution. Our founding fathers understood that without Free Speech the country that they envisioned could not endure.

They understood that it was paramount to the survival of this country that all Americans be endowed with the right to express their opinions, both popular and unpopular.

This case asks a simple question: Does an individual abdicate Free Speech Rights when they accept the Robe of a Judge? I do not believe that was the intent of the great minds that drafted our Constitution. In fact, it may be more important that we know what our judges’ think and believe in their heart-of-hearts than to muzzle them with threats of discipline for speaking.

Judge Stevens did not engage in gratuitous commentary about a pending case. Judge Stevens merely responded to issues of great public importance that were raised by another judicial officer.

He did not speak about a case pending before him or an issue pending before him. He merely did what every other man, woman or child regardless of race or religion has a fundamental right to do… He spoke from his heart”

WDRB reports the state formally charged Stevens with several counts of “misconduct” for how he treated victims in court and for public comments he made about persecutors and defense attorneys. Stevens dismissed a jury in October 2015 because of the lack of minorities. A hearing will be held in Louisville on April 19 to determine whether to “temporarily” suspend Stevens until the judicial branch’s disciplinary team can decide if the judge is guilty of misconduct.

The Jefferson Circuit Court judge has always been outspoken about race. In December 2015, he was removed from his duties for criticizing racist judicial practices. Stevens previously came down on white parents in court and on Facebook, saying he was “deeply offended” they allowed their daughter to have a fear of all Black men. The judge has also put a skinhead in contempt of court for calling him the N-word.

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