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.