A Black Kentucky judge has been suspended without pay for “racially-charged” comments accusing a Louisville prosecutor of intentionally seeking all-white juries.
On Monday, state officials decided to suspend Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens for 90 days without pay following an investigation into judicial misconduct charges. According to Reuters, Stevens was accused of eight code of conduct violations after criticizing Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine on Facebook and during a speech at the Louisville Bar Association. Wine had previously questioned the judge’s motion to replace two all-white juries with more racially diverse ones.
Stevens dismissed a jury panel back in 2014 after a Black defendant complained that it “didn’t represent a cross-section of the community,” Louisville’s WDRB reports. A new jury was formed, this time featuring four African-American members; the defendant was later found not guilty. Stevens took similar action in 2015 due to the lack of minorities on a jury. According to the station, that’s when Wine filed a motion with the Kentucky Supreme Court questioning if Stevens had the power to dismiss a jury based on the lack of diversity.
The judge has since apologized for his accusations.
“I recognize how serious it is to accuse someone, either expressly or implicitly, of racism,” Stevens said in a statement. “I do not believe Tom Wine is a racist. I apologize for any statements that implied as much.”
“My intent in making these comments was to emphasize the need to have jury panels that reflect our Commonwealth’s racial and ethnic diversity so that all individuals can receive fair trials,” he continued.
Stevens faces several other judicial misconduct charges, many of which stem from critical comments he made about state defense attorneys and a bashing of two robbery victims who he accused of allowing their daughter to develop a fear of all Black men.
“I wonder if the perpetrator had been white, would they be in fear of white men?” Stevens said during the Feb. 4, 2015 hearing. “The answer would probably be no. I’m offended by that.”
He later apologized for the statement, saying that he initially took offense because the parents were perpetuating “negative racial stereotypes.”
“While I maintain that we should continue to speak against racial stereotyping or discrimination of any kind, I acknowledge that directing my frustration at the victims of the crime was not the appropriate method or venue to address the subject,” Stevens said.
The Louisville judge was removed from his duties in December 2015 pending investigations into his criticisms of racist judicial practices. According to Atlanta Black Star, Stevens filed a lawsuit against the judges and prosecutors who sought to remove him from the bench in April 2016. In it, he asserted that his comments on racism were protected by his First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The suit didn’t seek monetary compensation, but requested that the state cease its actions against him, ABS reports.
The lawsuit has since been dropped, as Stevens and the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission mutually agreed to a 90-day unpaid suspension. Per WDRB, the judge could have been cleared, reprimanded, suspended or even removed from the bench.
His suspension is effective immediately and will last through Oct. 30, according to the commission’s executive secretary, Jimmy Shaffer.