At the conclusion of last month’s NBI Seminar, I handed out my 40 Points. The total is now 100. There are more to come. They are based on things I have seen during my time on the bench. I’m told they are helpful.
As you may know, I have been in discussions with the Louisville Bar Association to address issues of unfairness and inequity within its membership. When I brought this issue to their attention several months ago, they told me they were unaware that inequities existed within the language of the document that governs the conduct of their affairs. Late yesterday I received word that the LBA Board did the right thing. By unanimous vote, the board changed the bylaws to permit the judiciary the same rights afforded otherwise qualified, dues-paying members of the association. For me it is a particularly satisfying result. For reasons that are still largely unknown to me, I did not receive support from my colleagues (save one other judge who bravely and honorably did so publicly) in this effort. In fact, you will recall one of their number asking me, “Why do you care?” when I initially raised the issues several months ago. To which I responded, “Why don’t you care?” Indeed, however, in some respects, they cannot be expected to understand the bar association culture if they have never truly been part of it. Taking judges’ money without giving them any real say in the association’s affairs, while using them as a draw to do business and stay relevant is bound to create indifference. I am one of only two living individuals who has served as President of the Louisville Bar Association and as judge. The other is the Honorable Geoffrey Morris. I recently discussed these issues at length with Judge Morris and he authorized me to say that he agrees with all of the points I have raised in connection with the LBA bylaws and manner of conducting business. Long before I took up these issues, Judge Morris strongly advocated for changes to the LBA Judicial Evaluation. Unfortunately none of his suggestions were implemented. In short, the answer to my colleague’s question is that my perspective is rare and unique to sitting judges in Louisville, Kentucky. I have earned the right for my voice to be heard and for my positions to be duly considered by those in bar leadership. The LBA Board’s action earlier this week is a strong first step toward doing what is fair and right. However, they have not reached the finish line. There is more work to be done. The good news is that now we can hear each other’s voices as equals. This is bound to produce a much more equitable result, no matter the subject matter. Many thanks to LBA President Susan Phillips for her leadership on this issue. And many thanks to you. If you are reading this, you no doubt contributed to the effort that brought about this significant change. A few have been particularly helpful and vocal in support of my efforts. You know who you are and I thank you for standing up for what is right, not what is popular or safe. My words earlier this year ring true today- Fear can delay entitlement, but it cannot deny it.
I imagine I ought to be grateful. I saw a couple of the scores on the 2014 LBA Judicial Evaluation. Perhaps the same individuals wished me to bottom out in the 20′s. Thank goodness for the folks who have actually appeared in my court! Indeed 6.5 % returns are susceptible to manipulation with minimal effort. Why would the LBA wish to keep their judicial evaluation returns at such dismally low numbers? The Indianapolis Bar Association has a return rate of over 30% on its Judicial Poll. It is done electronically. It is well established that electronic surveys increase participatory rates. The American Bar Association told me they were unaware that any bar association in the country was still using paper to conduct such surveys. And when I forwarded last year’s return numbers to them, they stated that such numbers could not be statistically valid. This year’s return numbers are even worse. Common sense tells us these numbers are invalid and unreliable. Seems that the only people that believe in the validity of such pitiful return rates are select individuals at the LBA. Oh, and Thoroughbred Research, the company the LBA employs to conduct the judicial evaluation at a cost of $14,000 per year. By the way, the Indianapolis Bar spends only $200 per year on its electronic instrument. Thoroughbred says the numbers are “more than sufficient” to produce an adequate result. Really? I guess the LBA and the Thoroughbred Research Group think that Louisville lawyers are just inherently less participatory and much more apathetic than Indianapolis lawyers.
Sending out paper judicial evaluations by U.S. Mail is embarrassingly outdated. Imagine the hilarious irony of the LBA explaining that it sends out reminders to return its paper evaluations by email, it’s website and social media. Well actually, you don’t have to imagine. Read the methodology section of the evaluation. The LBA Judicial Evaluation costs $14,000 per year. $14,000 of our membership dues and our contributions to the Louisville Bar Foundation. Per year. 4,514 members of the KENTUCKY Bar Association received notice and were eligible to complete the evaluation. At most, only 182 evaluated a sitting District Court judge. Sobering. Even more so when one considers the LBA takes no steps to determine whether any of 182 people are dues-paying members of the LOUISVILLE Bar Association. The thought of $14,000 of our membership money and charitable contributions being spent on annual basis for the purpose of non-members expressing their opinions of our judges is very troublesome. While an electronic instrument will not necessarily address the member/non-member return ratio, at least it will increase the dismal and statistically invalid return rate, thereby producing a more credible result. In my next piece, I will speak to what bigger cities like Indianapolis are doing and what they spend on their judicial evaluation instrument. Considering Indianapolis is a much bigger bar than ours, the difference in cost and effectiveness is mind-boggling.
Sour grapes describe statements borne solely of spite. Mine are not. They originate in principle. One need only read my LBA President’s page on the Judicial Evaluation written in 2006 to determine my motive. As I have said before on this medium and others, I would write that page the same way today. The pool of individuals eligible to complete the 2014 LBA Judicial Evaluation was 4,514 lawyers (including opponents of the judges being evaluated. This is a separate issue that I have previously criticized, but I will not belabor here). Of that pool, only 295 lawyers returned an evaluation. Of those 295 lawyers, only 120 for instance, evaluated one of the District judges. No single judge was evaluated by more than 182 lawyers. The LBA employs the Thoroughbred Research Group at a cost of over $14,000 per year to conduct the evaluation and offer the self-serving and conclusory statement that “only a limited number of attorneys have had significant experience with a particular judge in a specific court.” They further offer the unsupported opinion that the woefully low numbers of lawyers who return the evaluation are “more than adequate to result in a statistically valid evaluation of the judiciary.” In what realm is a 6.5% return rate statistically valid? Further in the case of the particular District judge in question, how is a 2.7% return rate defensible? Their conclusory statements would not withstand the slightest scrutiny in a court of law- or any other segment of our society. Why do we accept such statements in this context? It is insufficient to have a retired jurist, no matter his high standing and stature, offer his conclusion that the result is legitimate. When I was in grade school, I learned a very important maxim that has stuck with me ever since: Just because you say it’s true doesn’t mean it is.
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Sentencing hearing. The defendant agreed to serve one year and previously waived sentencing. In certain situations, I will refuse the waiver and set a separate sentencing for the purpose of having a PSI (pre-sentence investigative report) prepared. The defendant receives a time credit for the six week period required to prepare the PSI for sentencing (unless serving on another sentence). The PSI will provide me with valuable insight about the defendant and I will incorporate this information into my remarks at sentencing.
Sentencing hearing. The defendant moves for probation. The Commonwealth objects. The motion was considered and denied. My remarks and decision begin at 09;46, but it is interesting to observe the lawyers’ arguments for and against the granting of probation. Both counsel did a very nice job. There is no doubt that my intention was to punish the offense, but it was also to encourage the defendant to take corrective measures during his period of incarceration.
Sentencing is one of the most important things a Circuit Court judge does. For the first time, we are placing video of one of Judge Olu Stevens’ sentencings on this website. Hopefully this will give the general public an idea of the type of work done everyday in court and how important the task really is. We are working on getting the video to load to this site, but in the interim it must be downloaded before viewing. It takes a couple of minutes depending on the speed of your connection.
We are a little over a week away. The Seminar will take place on Friday, June 6, 2014 in Louisville. There is an impressive group already signed up for this seminar. Jefferson Circuit Judge Olu Stevens will be releasing his 100 practice points. This will be an exciting and informative full-day seminar. Don’t miss it!
I was President of the Louisville Bar Association in 2006. As part of my duties, I wrote 12 President’s Pages for Bar Briefs. I remember the difficulty of choosing topics that wouldn’t be boring and would appeal to large segments of our membership. I also remember the relief of completing my last one. My thoughts go back to those days as I write. Therefore I have entitled this “The Last (Past) President’s Page”. A few months ago when I began to address the issues of equality and fairness within the Louisville Bar Association’s membership, one of my colleagues asked me, “Why do you care?” To which I responded, “Why don’t you care?” Indeed the concepts of equality and fairness are not just fundamental to membership in any voluntary bar association, they are fundamental to our way of life. I have coined a phrase: “When the climate is such that equality breeds fear, we are in peril. When fear triumphs over equality, we are doomed.” I think it aptly describes the issues I am seeking to address with the Louisville Bar Association. As the only sitting judge who has served as President of the LBA, I believe I am uniquely situated to speak to these issues. And despite the wishes of a few, I will not remain silent.
In order to understand the issues, one should understand the Louisville Bar Association Bylaws. They contain a number of classes of membership. The most relevant for these purposes are Resident Members, Government and Public Service Attorney Members and Honorary Members. Resident Members are members of the Kentucky Bar Association who live or have a primary office in Jefferson County. Government/Public Service Attorney Members are KBA members who are full-time employees in a city, county, state or federal government agency. Honorary Members are Justices and Judges of the Kentucky Court of Justice. Article 2, Section 5 of the LBA Bylaws states, “Honorary Members who also meet the criteria of other classifications of membership shall be classified as Honorary Members only.” This provision becomes very important as you read on.
Article 2, Section 14 entitled Voting Rights, Eligibility to Hold Office, states “Unless otherwise provided by resolution of the Board of Directors of the Corporation in specific cases, only…Resident Members and Government/Public Service Attorney Members who otherwise qualify as a Resident Member of the Corporation shall have a vote in the affairs of the Corporation and shall be eligible to act as a Director or hold office in the Corporation.”
Article 2, Section 15 entitled Dues; Certificates of Membership, states “The Board of Directors of the Corporation, by resolution, may provide as an additional qualification for initial or continuing membership an annual payment of membership dues by any class of members.”
In 2010, the LBA Member Services Committee submitted a written proposal (“Proposal 2”) to the LBA Board recommending increases for various classes of membership. Proposal 2 proposed no fee (and therefore no fee increase) for the 93 “Honorary (Judicial)” members. The report was presented at the October 25, 2010 Board of Directors Meeting. The minutes reflect that during the course of the meeting “questions were also raised as to why the judiciary is not charged for bar membership.” Without notation or mention of the prohibitions on the judiciary’s rights to “vote in the affairs of the Corporation” and “eligibility to act as a Director or hold office in the Corporation” contained in the body of the LBA Bylaws, the Board voted to adopt Proposal 2 as recommended by the Member Services Committee with adoption of a “floor amendment” assessing “membership fees against the judiciary at the same rates as Government/Public Service attorneys.” The same Government/Public Service Attorney Members who enjoy the rights to “vote in the affairs of the Corporation and shall be eligible to act as a Director or hold office in the Corporation” under Article 2, Section 14 of the LBA Bylaws.
A few months ago, I brought the above to the attention of the LBA. I have requested that they grant me and other members of the judiciary the same rights afforded other members under Article 2, Section 14 of the Bylaws. In particular, I have asked that they afford the judiciary the “right to vote in the affairs” of the LBA. I have been told they are in deliberation on the very serious issue of amending the Bylaws in this manner…for months now. The irony is the LBA decided to assess “membership fees against the judiciary at the same rates as Government/Public Service attorneys” in a span of mere minutes by floor amendment and in contradiction to the written recommendation of the Member Services Committee. Now they deliberate for months as to whether or not the judiciary should be afforded rights given to the Government and Public Service attorneys under the express terms of the Bylaws?
I submit that the issues the LBA contemplates have little to do with whether or not it is fair to afford the judiciary equal rights under the Bylaws. I believe they know it to be fair. Rather the issues on which they deliberate have much to do with fear of the implications. I sense they fear granting the judiciary equal rights for their membership fees may adversely affect their rights as Resident Members and Government/Public Service Attorney Members. This fear has manifested itself in the disingenuous prospect of restoring honorary (and non-paying) membership to the judiciary rather than afford the judiciary rights under the Bylaws. This story has been told since the beginning of time. The common denominator for all acts of discrimination is fear. And as the LBA leadership continues their deliberations, they cannot avoid one inescapable conclusion: Fear may delay entitlement, but it cannot deny it. Thanks for reading.
Judge Olu A. Stevens, Past President of the LBA
Louisville, KY- Jefferson Circuit Judge Olu Stevens was the keynote speaker for the Bellarmine University Legal Internship Celebration on April 23, 2014. Judge Stevens commended the students and their families for the participation in the program, which provides opportunities for Bellarmine students to intern with judges and lawyers. Judge Stevens has been an intern provider for Bellarmine University since the inception of the program three years ago. On Friday, April 25, 2014, Judge Stevens traveled to Bardstown, Kentucky to address the Kentucky Black Locally Elected Officials (KBLEO) Spring Summit Meeting. The meeting was hosted by Bardstown Mayor Bill Sheckles. KBLEO is an organization of African-American public officials from all over the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Judge Stevens addressed issues affecting public trust and confidence in the criminal justice system.