Fayette Family Court Judge Kathy Stein’s latest suspension makes her the first Kentucky judge in 32 years to be suspended more than once.
Stein, who violated the due process of three families, is the only judge to have been suspended twice in less than a year, according to documents dating back to 1981 that the Herald-Leader obtained from the Judicial Conduct Commission.
Stein also is the only judge from Fayette County to ever have been suspended. She was appointed to the bench in 2013 by former Gov. Steve Beshear and won election to the post in 2014.
The judicial commission chairman, Stephen D. Wolnitzek, declined to comment on the Herald-Leader’s findings.
“I think the facts speak for themselves,” Wolnitzek said.
The judicial oversight commission was formed in 1976, and no suspensions were issued to judges before 1981.
Kentucky judges who have been suspended and why
Judge Samuel C. Long and Judge Jack D. Wood are the only other two judges who have been suspended twice by the commission. Long was suspended for 180 days in 1981 days for using his office to protect the bootlegging industry in Morgan County, and for 30 days in 1983 for vacating four drunken-driving cases without legal justification.
Wood was suspended for 10 days in 1982 for running campaign ads claiming that a professional poll showed him ahead of his opponent; no such poll had been done. He was then suspended for 60 days in 1985 for a laundry list of offenses, including a claim that he was nominated for the “Kentucky Bar Association’s Outstanding Award for 1985” when he had been nominated only by his brother.
Stein was suspended last fall after she changed custody in the case of Carlie and Charles Schindler on Dec. 4, 2015. Stein didn’t grant the mother the opportunity to contest the judge’s ruling in Charles Schindler’s favor. Stein’s decision ultimately led to Charles Schindler picking up their daughter and absconding to Mississippi. Stein’s suspension was from Sept. 28 through Oct. 4.
Stein was suspended again March 20 for 30 days in the case of Rai-Tonicia King, who was seeking custody of Joian Adams’ daughter. King and Adams are sisters. Adams appeared in Stein’s court without an attorney May 20.
“Rather than continue the matter to give the respondent (Adams) an opportunity to obtain counsel, Judge Stein continued with the proceeding,” the conduct commission’s order stated.
On that day, King and her attorney acknowledged that another evidentiary hearing was needed. Nevertheless, Stein “proceeded to grant permanent sole custody of the child” to King, according to the commission’s order.
Those two cases for which Stein was punished involved the same attorney. Both King’s and Charles Schindler’s cases were handled completely or in part by Lexington attorney Crystal Osborne.
While the commission was investigating Adams’ complaint, it received another against Stein regarding a confidential juvenile case heard in her court on Feb. 16, 2015.
“Stein 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,” the commission said in its agreed order.
As for other judges, the offenses were more serious. Judge John P. Moore was suspended for three months in 1991 for soliciting sexual favors from a female defendant whose case had recently been dismissed in his court. In 2002, Judge Don Thomas was suspended for 180 days for interfering with court procedures on behalf of a woman who was living with him. Thomas also threatened a car salesman over the phone, claiming that he would use his influence as a judge to the detriment of the man’s business.
Of the 23 judges suspended since 1981, only six were women. The commission’s busiest year was 2015, when it doled out four suspensions: to Judge Gregory T. Popovich (15 days), Judge Kathy E. Prewitt (seven days), Judge Sam Potter Jr. (30 days), and Judge Steven D. Combs (180 days). The commission filed 13 ethics charges against Combs in 2015, then suspended him with pay in June.
Fernando Alfonso III: 859-231-1324, @fernalfonso
Alex Van Campen contributed to this report