Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky 2021-11-27 00:01:09 –
Scott County, Kentucky (LEX 18) — Amid concerns about potential conflicts of interest, Commonwealth lawyer Sharon Muse defends her husband’s decision to run for judge on the same circuit.
“If only a prosecutor is married to a judge, the question makes sense. Of course, people would often say, what does it look like,” Muse said.
Muse’s husband, Rob Johnson, currently working as an assistant federal lawyer in her office, applied for candidacy for the 14th Circuit Court Part 2 in early November. He was the 14th Circuit Judge for 12 years before being appointed to the Kentucky Court of Appeals.
Johnson requested a Judiciary Ethics Commission opinion on an interpretation of whether marriage to Muse would be a conflict if he was elected.
“We looked up the opinion of judicial ethics, got on the AOC, looked up the number of cases. I read and talked to other judges, what would this be? And the same across the state? It turns out that having a family on the circuit is not uncommon, “Muse said.
They rely primarily on the 1980 judicial ethics opinion involving the father and son duo. The question in that case was whether the judge should disqualify himself from all criminal cases if his son was an assistant federal lawyer.
“If his son is involved, he should be disqualified (if possible), but not in other criminal cases,” the opinion said.
Also, prosecutors or federal lawyers are not part of the proceedings and are not “substantially affected” by the outcome of the proceedings. Federal lawyers do not represent clients and the results have no financial interest. Proceedings. “
“Literally there is no room for confusion. The dock can and should be placed so that relatives do not have to appear in front of the judge involved. Therefore, I will never appear in front of Rob. No, “Muse said. ..
If Johnson is elected, he only wants to preside over as a judge in a civil case. While the only other judge in the circuit is handling all criminal cases.
“I never appear before them. We have two departments. I stay on one side and he stays on the other. Our roads do not cross and there is no conflict.” Muse explained.
In 2019, the 14th Circuit filed 860 civil and 495 criminal proceedings, according to the Court’s Administration. In 2020, there were 711 civil proceedings and 565 criminal proceedings. Usually they are split between two judges.
“63% of casework is civil. That’s what Rob has to do. 37% is criminal. It’s not only a much smaller number, but almost 400 or more cases, these The practice of the case is completely different, “Muse said.
Muse says he doesn’t think it’s unfair to other judges.
“We would like elected rational people to respect the will of voters,” Muse said.
She says they have been studying the legality of this since their first date and have confirmed that if they get married, they can continue to pursue their individual career goals.
“The reason we got married and allowed us to love each other passionately was because we knew that the law allowed us to do this,” Muse said.
Legal expert Cary Howard states that the situation may not be as simple as the 1980 opinion.
“Currently, the law is different. The court has ruled and changed the rules since 1980. We are interested in maintaining an improper appearance to the entire community, or “Howard explained, in a way that makes it clear that it is to avoid an improper appearance.
Howard is well-versed in ethics and outside, and was an advisor to the Kentucky Bar Association in the process of enforcing ethical standards. He says the Kentucky Supreme Court will have the final say. But if Johnson were allowed to preside over civil proceedings only, it would eliminate the dispute.
“We may argue or redirect all of these cases to another judge who is patrolling, etc., but the judge is individual about how to handle them. I don’t decide to, because other people are involved, which means that other judges in the circuit may not want to double the record of criminal proceedings. “
If the judge is unable or unable to handle all criminal cases, a special judge will need to seek help. If it’s a sitting judge from another circuit, they have to be paid for their travel mileage. If it is a retired judge, they will be paid $ 400 a day and mileage.
The Judiciary Ethics Board can only respond to formal requests from judges or candidates for opinion on issues that affect them.
Muse says Johnson is expecting a formal opinion next week.
“If there was a situation where I had the choice of doing this job or he doing him, it hurt my heart, but this job is important, so I can he do him. But he is our best judge, “I’ve ever had, and we need him,” Muse said.
Retired judge “Daniel J. Venters” also considered this issue in an email to Muse obtained by LEX 18.
“These situations exist and responsible judges chosen by people can find ways to manage their dockets fairly and efficiently.”
Muse was kidnapped by a client in 2006. The judge who presided over her criminal case was Johnson.