The Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission on Monday publicly reprimanded an Eastern Kentucky judge for comments he made about juvenile girls during the sentencing of an male teacher convicted of sexually abusing the students.
Frank Fletcher, chief circuit judge for the 39th judicial circuit of Breathitt, Powell and Wolfe counties, commented that the defendant "was not blind and only human" and that some of the victims did not look their age, an order said. The victims were five 13- and 14-year-old girls who were the defendant's students, the order said.
Fletcher was presiding over a sentencing hearing for a defendant who was not named in the order and had pleaded guilty to 14 counts of sexual offenses.
During that hearing, Fletcher also discussed the lack of enforcement of the school dress code and said he didn't think students should come to school wearing low-cut blouses and short skirts, the order said.
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"During the hearing, Judge Fletcher made comments which could be viewed as sympathetic to the defendant," the order said.
According to the order, Fletcher said, when responding to a statement by the defendant's attorney, "This is a statutory offense, but is it your understanding that all of the acts that occurred were consensual?"
The judge acknowledged he made the comments but said he was exploring the circumstances surrounding the commission of the offenses as he was required to do, according to the order.
"However, because the victims were underage, they could not consent; nor was their manner of dress or not looking their age a defense to the sexual offenses committed by their adult teacher," the order said.
"Judge Fletcher's comments were offensive to the victims and their families in that they suggested that the young girls were in some way at fault or complicit in the defendant's offenses," the order said.
The judge imposed the seven-year sentence the defendant and prosecutors had agreed on. Eight months later, he granted the defendant shock probation, according to the order.
The order said that after shock probation was granted, the commission received the complaint about the comments at the sentencing.
"These comments manifested bias or prejudice in favor of the male defendant and against the female victims, and created the impression for some that his disposition of the case was motivated by bias or prejudice," the order said.
Jon L. Fleischaker, Fletcher's attorney, told the Herald-Leader, "I know that Judge Fletcher is sorry about the whole incident.
"I think Judge Fletcher is glad this is over. He probably was musing when he said a little bit too much on the bench, and he thought it was best to just take his medicine and go on."
In entering the order, the commission considered that Fletcher had no prior infractions and that he cooperated fully in the investigation.