Fayette County family court Judge Kathy W. Stein has been suspended once again by a state panel because of her handling of cases involving child custody.
According to an agreed order of suspension released Tuesday by the state Judicial Conduct Commission, Stein on Feb. 16, 2015, “ordered two minor children to be immediately placed in foster care without conducting a formal hearing, taking any sworn testimony, or affording the parents basic due process.”
And in a different case, in May 2016, Stein made a decision about a child’s permanent custody without conducting an evidentiary hearing or giving the child’s mother an opportunity to get an attorney, according to the agreed order.
Stein is suspended without pay from March 20 to April 19.
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According to the agreed order, Stein “waived formal proceedings” in the matter and agreed to the suspension, which also requires her to complete courses “on substantive and procedural due process” that the commission approves.
The commission noted that Stein “fully cooperated” with the investigation “and pledged the offending conduct will not be repeated.”
Stein confirmed her suspension Monday afternoon but declined to comment on the reason the Judicial Conduct Commission handed it down.
“I’ve been meeting with them a long time,” Stein said regarding the commission’s latest decision. Her attorney, Jim Deckard, said Tuesday that he had no further comment.
It is the second time in less than a year that Stein has been disciplined over her handling of child custody.
Stein was suspended in September after the commission received information that an attorney representing a father in a custody case approached her in December 2015 and asked her to grant the father immediate temporary custody of the couple’s child. That request was granted without holding a hearing or giving the mother a chance to respond, the commission said in its order.
“I jumped the gun and did not give the mother an opportunity to be heard,” Stein said in September.
The commission said Stein violated ethics rules, including a standard on giving everyone with an interest in a legal proceeding a right to be heard. She was suspended without pay from Sept. 28 through Oct. 4.
One of the cases in the most recent disciplinary matter regarded the custody of a girl who was being cared for by Rai-Tonicia King, who wanted to get permanent sole custody.
On May 20, 2016, when the case came before Stein, the mother, Joian Adams, appeared without an attorney and told Stein that she thought she had an attorney, because one had been appointed in a related juvenile court case.
“Rather than continue the matter to give the respondent (Adams) an opportunity to obtain counsel, Judge Stein continued with the proceeding,” the agreed order states.
Then, instead of setting a date for a future hearing, as King and her attorney were asking, Stein “proceeded to grant permanent sole custody of the child to the petitioner that day,” according to the order. “Judge Stein did so without requiring the petitioner to provide evidence or testimony that she was the de facto custodian and that it was in the best interest of the child that she be given permanent custody of the child.”
The commission said Stein violated several canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct, including those that give everyone with a legal interest in a case the right to be heard and that require judges to take care of cases “promptly, efficiently and fairly.”
She also failed “to maintain high standards of conduct and by failing to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary” and failed “to comply with the law and act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.”