In order to avoid banishment from the bench, Olu Stevens, an African-American circuit judge in Louisville, Kentucky, accepted a 90-day suspension without pay.
According to ABC News, Stevens was suspended on Monday for expressing his discontent with the lack of minority representation of a jury in a case he was presiding over. In an agreement, Stevens acknowledged he violated judicial rules when he wrote on a social media account that the local White prosecutor, Tom Wine, was wrong.
“I recognize how serious it is to accuse someone, either expressly or implicitly, of racism. I do not believe Tom Wine is a racist. I apologize for any statements that implied as much,” Stevens said in a statement he read to the commission.
In addition, as part of the agreement, Stevens also promised not to retaliate against anyone involved in his disciplinary case. And Wine, who publicly questioned Stevens’ authority in throwing out a jury panel because it lacked people of color, accepted Stevens’ apology.
“I have had no personal animosity toward Judge Stevens and I have none now,” Wine said. “I believe my energies and focus are better spent working for justice and fairness with our criminal justice partners and protecting victims of crime.”
Yet, Stevens’ status ushered in a much-needed conversation about racial fairness, judicial impartiality, and free speech for judges, ABC noted.
According to the news outlet, the rift between Stevens and Wine started in 2014 during an African-American defendant’s trial. For a city that’s 23 percent Black, there was only one African-American out of 41 potential jurors. While the defense asked Stevens to dismiss the panel he declined, but noted the lack of diversity was unusual, stating the panel had been appropriately selected at random. However, with four extra jurors, they needed to get rid of someone and, through a random lottery, ironically the lone Black juror was sent home.
When Stevens got wind of this, he dismissed the jury because it didn’t reflect the diversity of the community. A move that angered Wine, especially since a different jury acquitted the defendant in early 2015. Wine then asked the state Supreme Court to review whether a judge could dismiss a random jury panel for racial imbalance, absent of any evidence that minorities were intentionally excluded, ABC noted. And the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, which prompted Stevens to create a social media campaign against Wine.
In the end, while Stevens may have admitted he was wrong, not everyone agrees with him.
SOURCE: ABC News | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty, Twitter