Jason Riley, WDRB (Louisville), October 20, 2015
Unhappy with the number of potential black jurors called to his court last week, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens halted a drug trial and dismissed the entire jury panel, asking for a new group to be sent up.
“The concern is that the panel is not representative of the community,” said Stevens, who brought in a new group of jurors despite objections from both the defense and prosecutor.
And this wasn’t the first time Stevens, who is black, has dismissed a jury because he felt it was lacking enough minorities. Now the state Supreme Court is going to determine whether the judge is abusing his power.
On Nov. 18, 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 conscious go forward with this jury.”
A new jury panel was called up the next day.
After that, the Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and Attorney General asked the Kentucky Supreme Court to look at the issue and see if Stevens has the authority to dismiss jury panels because of a lack of minorities. And last month, the high court agreed to hear arguments.
In requesting the Supreme Court hear the issue, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Dorislee Gilbert argued that other judges “may feel societal, political, and other pressures” to dismiss a jury for lack of minorities if allowed.
And Gilbert said that there was no proof the jury in the November case could not be fair and impartial just because of their race.
The judge “struck the jury based on nothing more than unsupported fear or impression that the jury might not be fair because of its racial makeup,” Gilbert wrote in the case, commonwealth vs. James Doss. “There was no consideration of whether the commonwealth or the citizens who had sacrificed of their own lives to make themselves available for jury service had any rights or interests in continuing to trial with the jury as selected.”