Olu Stevens, a Kentucky Circuit Court judge, was suspended for 90 days without pay on Monday after criticizing an attorney for selecting an all-white jury.
Stevens, a black man, contended that the jury selected by state-appointed attorney Tom Wine, a white man, did not accurately reflect the local community of Louisville's Jefferson County, which is about 77% white and 19% black. Stevens had taken similar issues in the past with other juries selected by Wine, prompting him to call for them to be dismissed as well.
According to WDRB, Stevens dismissed the juries in two of Wine's cases, one in 2014 and another in 2015 after deciding that they were racially imbalanced. Stevens ultimately put together new panels before proceeding with the cases.
The 2015 case, involving a black man on trial for drug charges, is what ultimately prompted Wine to voice his grievances to the Kentucky Supreme Court. In his motion, Wine questions whether or not Stevens was technically allowed to dismiss juries on the grounds of diversity.
Ultimately, the Kentucky Supreme Court found that Stevens was in violation of eight misconduct violations for his actions that could have led to his dismissal had he not agreed to the temporary suspension.
“I recognize how serious it is to accuse someone, either expressly or implicitly, or racism," Stevens said in a written statement. "I do not believe Tom Wine is a racist. I apologize for any statements that implied as much.”
Research has shown that—in the south in particular—black potential jurors are two to three times more likely to be disqualified from serving compared to white people. The result? White juries. Attorneys are allowed to dismiss potential jurors at their own discretion so as to make sure that the jury that hears their cases is unbiased.
In cases where there is a black defendant, however, excluding black jurors from a panel can increase an attorney's chance of winning a conviction by relying on implicit racial bias: While Stevens may have technically been in violation of the court's code of conduct, it has been well-documented that all-white juries tend to rule unfavorably against black defendants.
What Stevens did may not have been right by the books, it certainly points to the need for some kind of institutional protocol to deal with a very real problem.