On Monday, state officials suspended Jefferson Circut Court Judge Olu Stevens for 90 days without pay. His crime was simply pointing out on Facebook that juries need to be more diverse. According to Reuters, Stevens was accused of 8 code of conduct violations after criticizing Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Wine on Facebook as well as during a speech at the Louisville Bar Association. Apparently, this wasn't the first time he called out institutional racism as he has previously questioned the judge's motion to replace two all-white juries with more racially diverse candidates.
Stevens dismissed a jury panel back in 2014 after a Black defendant complained that "it didn't represent a cross-section of the community." A new jury was formed with 4 African-American members and the defendant was later found not guilty. Stevens has taken similar actions due to the lack of minorities on juries. That's when Wine filed a motion with the Kentucky Supreme Court questioning if Stevens actually possessed the power to dismiss a jury based on lack of diversity.
Stevens has apologized for his assertions.
"I recognize how serious it is to accuse someone, either expressly or implicitly, of racism," Stevens said in a statement. "I do not believe Tom Wine is racist. I apologize for any statements that implied as much."
"My intent in making these comments was to emphasize the need to have jury panels that reflect our Commonwealth's racial and ethnic diversity so that all individuals can receive fair trials."
Unfortunately, Stevens faces several other judicial misconduct charges, many of which stem from critical comments he made about state defense attorneys and the scolding of two robbery victims whom he pointed out that she was allowed to develop a fear of Black men.
"I wonder if the perpetrator had been white, would they be in fear of white men?" Stevens said during the Feb. 4, 2015 hearing. "The answer would probably be no. I'm offended by that."
Although he apologized for his statement, he reminded everyone that he had initially taken offense because the parents were perpetuating "negative racial stereotypes."
The honorable judge was removed from his duties in December 2015 pending investigations into his criticisms of racist judicial practices. He filed a lawsuit according to Atlanta Black Star, against the judges and prosecutors who sought to remove him from the bench in Aprile 2016. He asserted that his comments on racism were protected by his First Amendment right to freedom of speech. He did not seek monetary compensation, but he did request that the state cease its actions against him, ABS reports.
The lawsuit was dropped, as Stevens and the Kentucky, Judicial Conduct Commission mutually agreed to a 90-day unpaid suspension. In other words, even if you are a judge and you point to systematic oppression, racism or discrimination then you will be dealt with. Instead of opening up a conversation of how we can improve fairness for African-Americans as well as all people of color, you get punished immediately for suggesting the possibility of racism.
While these rules are set and there is no way around them, it becomes virtually impossible for anyone with power and influence to make a difference and speak up for people of color because the true crime wasn't suggesting that the judge was crooked. The actual true crime was pointing out the reality of systemic racism.