Fayette County

One Fayette County judge considers holding fellow judge in contempt. Here's why.

Fayette District Judge Megan Lake Thornton faces the possibility of being held in contempt for failing to immediately comply with an order from Fayette Circuit Judge Ernesto Scorsone.

In a ruling earlier this month, Scorsone found that Thornton denied Dylan Casey, 19, of Waco credit for the time he had served in jail, and had thus caused “the illegal detention” of Casey. Scorsone ordered Casey released from custody on May 17.

Thornton signed an order for Casey's release on May 18, but he wasn't released from the Fayette County jail until Monday, four days after Scorsone's order. So Scorsone scheduled a May 30 hearing to determine whether Thornton will be held in contempt for failing to comply with his order.

Had Thornton had her way, Casey would have served an additional 140 days in jail, Lexington defense attorney Jerry Wright argued in a court document. Scorsone wrote that Thornton's decision "is resulting in great injustice and irreparable injury to Dylan Casey."

Scorsone declined to comment Wednesday about the matter. Thornton, Wright and Casey could not be immediately reached for comment.

A spokesman for the Judicial Conduct Commission, the state entity charged with the disciplining of sitting judges, was not immediately available to give context on how rare it is for a circuit judge to schedule a contempt hearing for a district judge.

The background of this case goes back to Sept. 14, when Casey pleaded guilty in Fayette District Court to the misdemeanor trafficking of less than 8 ounces of marijuana. He didn't serve time because his jail sentence of 180 days was probated for two years.

In October Casey was arrested and lodged in the Madison County jail on charges of driving under the influence, wanton endangerment and assault. BriAnna Cowden, 22, of Richmond was driving her Toyota Scion on Oct. 26 on Battlefield Memorial Highway when a Chevrolet Trailblazer driven by Casey collided with her vehicle, according to the sheriff’s office.

Cowden, a Berea College student who had been at University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital since the crash, died in November, more than a week after the collision, according to the Fayette County coroner.

While in the Madison jail, Casey was served with a warrant for violating his probation in Fayette County.

His case in regard to the crash was held over to the Madison County grand jury. But no indictment was returned within 60 days, so Madison Circuit Judge William Clouse ordered Casey released from the Richmond jail on March 20 and he was transferred to the Fayette Count jail.

On April 19, a hearing to revoke Casey’s probation was held in Fayette County. He “stipulated” or acknowledged the probation violation. Judge Thornton revoked his probation and sentenced him to 180 days in jail.

But she also denied Casey’s request for credit for the six months he had already served in Madison County, and ordered that his 180-day sentence begin on March 15.

If he had been granted credit for time served, Casey would have served out his 180-day sentence on April 24. But according to Thornton’s order, Casey would have stayed in custody until Sept. 11, defense attorney Jerry Wright argued.

Wright filed a petition on May 10 that appealed Casey’s situation to Judge Scorsone. Wright wrote that “Thornton’s ruling is clearly contrary to a plain reading of Kentucky law.”

In his petition to Judge Scorsone, Wright argued that Thornton acted within her “jurisdictional bounds,” but that she was in error by not granting credit for the time Casey had already served.

Scorsone wrote that Kentucky law does not give a judge discretion on when custody credit should begin.

Thornton has been a district judge since 1997 and last year she was one of three people whose names were submitted to Gov. Matt Bevin to succeed retiring Fayette Circuit Judge Thomas Clark.

However, Bevin selected Thomas Travis to be circuit judge. Thornton did not seek re-election this year.

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