The top judicial official in Harlan County abused his position to try to discredit his cousin's opponent in a political race, an ethics panel has charged.
Circuit Judge Russell D. Alred also committed numerous other ethics breaches, including seeking a job for another cousin; compromising his impartiality by pushing for investigations of people; and ordering people to take drug tests without cause, the charges allege.
The state Judicial Conduct Commission publicly issued a total of 20 charges against Alred on Tuesday. That is a high number compared to other recent cases.
The charges — which are administrative, not criminal — allege that Alred has committed misconduct, besmirched the judiciary, allowed family or other relationships to impair his objectivity and has been unfair.
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The commission could rule that the charges have no merit.
However, if the panel decides Alred violated ethics standards, his potential punishment ranges from being privately admonished to being suspended or even removed from office.
In documents filed with the commission, Alred denied all the charges, saying people opposed to him politically have orchestrated "frivolous and mean-spirited complaints" to the conduct commission.
Alred told The Associated Press that the charges are "bull malarkey."
"It's all politically motivated by individuals who worked diligently against me in my 2006 election," Alred told the AP. "And they have conspired, encouraged and prompted numerous false allegations to be made against me."
At a meeting later this week, the commission will schedule a hearing for Alred, said the chairman, Stephen D. Wolnitzek. The commission is to decide the matter within 180 days, though that can be extended.
In one incident that led to several charges, Alred appointed a special grand jury in April 2010 to investigate Harlan County Judge-Executive Joe Grieshop.
At the time, Alred's cousin, Denny Pace, was challenging Grieshop for the nomination for judge-executive in the Democratic primary.
Alred spelled out in the order, which became public, that the grand jury was to investigate allegations of drug trafficking by the judge-executive from his courthouse office.
Alred could have put the grand jury in place without naming the target or what the investigation was about.
Alred said at the time that politics had nothing to do with his order.
The conduct commission, however, charged it was improper.
"In the special grand jury order, you identified the county judge as the target of an on-going drug investigation to discredit him," the commission said in its charge.
Alred scheduled the special grand jury to come in a week after the primary, meaning the issue would have remained alive throughout the race.
However, Commonwealth's Attorney Henry Johnson put the matter before a regular grand jury already in place before the election.
Johnson said at the time he didn't think it would be fair to leave the issue hanging until after the election.
The grand jury exonerated Grieshop, who won re-election.
Alred summoned Johnson to his office and "angrily confronted" him about not waiting for a special grand jury, the commission said.
Later that day, the circuit judge revoked electronic access to the judicial building for Johnson and Sheriff Marvin Lipfird, the commission said.
Among the other charges against Alred:
■ He improperly pushed for two defendants in a drug case to pay the county $1 million, with the use of the funds to be subject to Alred's approval. Alred later reduced that amount to $500,000. Later, Alred filed another order saying the payment was not "solicited or approved by this judge."
That was a misrepresentation of Alred's earlier order, the commission said.
■ Alred also violated ethics rules by asking the fiscal court to use the $500,000 for a water park, the commission said.
Ethics rules say a judge shall not appear at a public hearing or consult with a legislative body except about matters of the law.
■ Alred ordered drug tests for some people in his court even though there was no cause to do so, and he jailed people for allegedly failing drug tests without giving them an opportunity to be heard.
■ After Alred's cousin John Clem quit a job at the county jail, Alred asked the jailer not to contest Clem's application for unemployment benefits. The jailer did as Alred asked, and Clem collected $2,750, the commission alleged.
Alred also used the influence of his office to urge the fiscal court to hire Clem for the drug-court program, the commission charged.
■ Alred has urged police to investigate people and then presided over their cases. Judges are supposed to be impartial.
■ Alred has gotten personally involved in juvenile cases, giving orders to social workers that are a violation of their rules, giving orders outside his jurisdiction and ordering an employee of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to disclose confidential information.
Alred even threatened a cabinet employee with being indicted to force the person to comply with orders Alred made outside his authority, the commission charged.
■ Alred solicited a $12,500 donation from an attorney for Kentucky Utilities at the same time he had a complaint about a KU rate issue before the state Public Service Commission.
Alred asked for the money during a conversation in which he told the KU lawyer he planned to drop his complaint, the commission said.
Among other things, judges aren't supposed to personally solicit donations. The charge did not say what the donation was for.
■ Alred barred a public defender from his courtroom without justification.
■ After another judge took jurisdiction of a child-custody case, Alred met with the child's paternal grandparents, called a lawyer to file a case on the matter in his court and gave custody to the grandparents.
Alred filed a lawsuit last week seeking to block the commission from continuing a case against him.
He said Wolnitzek had shown bias against him — telling Alred he was not the "avenging angel" of Harlan County — and that the commission's investigator had failed to include information favorable to him in reports.
Wolnitzek said in a document that he had not shown animosity toward Alred.
U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves denied Alred's request for a temporary restraining order.
However, Alred's motion for a preliminary injunction against the commission is pending.