Mike O’Connell, Jefferson County Attorney, has claimed that it is a “coincidence” that many of his Assistant County Attorneys have filed to run against the very judges he has had problems with in the past. You can read the Courier-Journal article here.
It is no coincidence. It is a shameful attempt at revenge by a vindictive prosecutor who is attempting to stack the Jefferson District Court bench with prosecutors-turned-judges.
Mr. O’Connell’s problems began when he wrote a letter to the District Court judges complaining about their rulings and verdicts in DUI cases, and specifically targeted Judge Stephanie Pearce Burke, Judge Donald Armstrong, Judge Erica Lee Williams, and Judge David Bowles. O’Connell accused these judges of allowing criminal defense lawyers to engage in misconduct. The judges, in turn, referred O’Connell to the bar. The letter, deemed an ex parte communication, landed him a reprimand, and he is still involved in ethics proceedings surrounding the matter.
Now, eight of O’Connell’s Assistant County Attorneys have filed to run for judge in Jefferson District Court against the very judges who he clashed with. The problems with this are many.
That judicial candidates are prosecuting cases in the very courtrooms they seek to rule over flies in the face of impartiality. What is going to happen when one day they are the prosecutor, and the next they are the judge? Imagine yourself a criminal defendant in that courtroom – do you really think you’d believe you had a fair and unbiased arbiter? As lawyers, we constantly strive to avoid the appearance of impropriety; O’Connell and his people clearly don’t care.
Judge Burke has stated that Assistant County Attorneys told her O’Connell promised them raises for running against her and the others. If this is true, O’Connell needs to be ousted and indicted. He cannot be allowed to use taxpayer dollars for his own political agenda of getting his people on the bench.
It is also incredibly problematic to have a District Judiciary made up primarily of former prosecutors who will inevitably be harsher on criminal defendants and their counsel than the current members of the bench, who have much broader and more-varied backgrounds.
O’Connell’s actions have also hurt his own people. Many of the Assistant County Attorneys involved in this scheme are smart lawyers and compassionate human beings who would make excellent judges. Unfortunately, O’Connell has destroyed any chance some of them may have to become judge as a result of his appalling behavior.
Mike O’Connell himself is also up for reelection this year, and to date, has no challengers. The filing deadline is next week. I will support and campaign for any legitimate candidate who challenges this vindictive and disingenuous prosecutor.
Tags: Appearance of Impropriety Assistant County Attorney Bench Campaign County Attorney Courier-Journal Criminal Defendant District Court Election Ex Parte Fair Impartiality Jefferson District Court Judge Judge Armstrong Judge Bowles Judge Burke Judge Delahanty Judge Williams Judiciary Kentucky Bar Association Lawyer Mike O'Connell Prosecutor Reprimand Taxpayer Unbiased