The Kentucky Supreme Court is considering a case that could determine what power, if any, judges have to dismiss a jury because it lacks diversity.
The case stems from a decision by Jefferson County Circuit Judge Olu Stevens to dismiss a jury panel after the sole black prospective juror was struck. The question before the court sparked a highly-politicized stir between Stevens and the Jefferson Commonwealth Attorney’s office.
The Courier-Journal reports (http://cjky.it/1YjAep8 ) that Supreme Court justices spent nearly an hour grilling Jefferson County lawyers Thursday, often interrupting them with questions.
Dorislee Gilbert, an assistant Jefferson Commonwealth’s attorney, argued to justices that the case “presents the question of the exercise of arbitrary power by a judge based on ideas of what seems fair without a showing of any violation of the defendant’s rights.”
The Commonwealth has argued that Stevens was wrong to dismiss a jury panel in a November 2014 trial, at the request of an African-American defendant and his public defender, because there weren’t enough blacks on the panel.
On Thursday, Gilbert argued that there was no proof of systematic bias against any group and said that the judge’s ruling was a threat to the randomness and integrity of the process of picking juries.
But Cicely Lambert, deputy appellate defender with the Louisville Metro Public Defender’s office, argued that there is no way to prove that any one group is being systematically excluded because the state does not keep data on the race of jurors. She said Stevens did the right thing, and in her brief called on the state to implement reforms to ensure diversity on juries. During arguments, Deputy Chief Justice Mary C. Noble cited a study filed in a brief by the National Bar Association and the NAACP that found that all-white juries tend to give black defendants harsher sentences.