Politics & Government

Ky. high court hears appeal of judge tossed from office by ethics panel

Harlan Circuit Judge Russell Alred at his ethics hearing on Aug. 30, 2011.
Harlan Circuit Judge Russell Alred at his ethics hearing on Aug. 30, 2011.

FRANKFORT — A circuit judge ordered removed from office for misconduct was treated unfairly and should be allowed to keep his job, his attorney argued to the state Supreme Court on Thursday.

However, the attorney for the panel that disciplined Harlan Circuit Judge Russell D. Alred said the decision to strip him of office was clearly justified by a range of evidence.

Alred is appealing a decision by the state Judicial Conduct Commission, which ordered him removed last September.

The high court could uphold the decision, order a lesser penalty or decide, as Alred argues, that the commission and the ethics rules it enforces are unconstitutional, in part because the standards are vague.

It could be months before the Supreme Court announces its decision.

Alred agreed not to preside over cases after the commission ruling last year, but still receives his salary.

He is the fourth judge since 1984 to be removed from office by the commission.

The commission had offered a deal in which Alred would receive a 90-day suspension if he would admit ethics breaches, but he refused.

Later, after a hearing, the panel judged Alred guilty of numerous ethics violations, including having improper involvement in cases, failing to dispose of cases fairly, using his office to advance personal interests and misrepresenting his actions.

For instance, the panel decided Alred improperly solicited money for a school his children attended; barred a woman charged with fraud from teaching at the school, without a basis to do so; urged police to investigate gambling machines at a business and then presided over the case of a man who was charged; and altered a court order in a way that misrepresented the earlier terms of the order.

In perhaps the most high-profile charge, the commission ruled that Alred abused his power by appointing a special grand jury in April 2010 to investigate county Judge-Executive Joe Grieshop, who was being opposed for re-election by Alred's cousin.

Alred wrote the order in a way to discredit Grieshop in the weeks before the election, the commission said.

Alred's actions "show a blatant and persistent failure to uphold the impartiality and integrity of the judiciary," the commission said.

Alred's attorney, Marcus Carey of Erlanger, said the charges against Alred were not supported by clear and convincing evidence, and that in most cases he did nothing wrong.

Alred admitted that he should not have raised money for his children's school, but he said that was an innocent mistake.

Carey said the commission's process did not provide due process to Alred, and that the commission had decided that Alred was guilty before holding a formal hearing in his case.

Carey also argued the commission was unfair to Alred.

After Alred alleged impropriety by a commission investigator and a lack of impartiality by the chairman, and then asked that the members be disqualified, the commission quickly sought an emergency order to remove him from office, Carey said in a court document.

"The timing of that motion creates an appearance that it was retaliatory," Carey said in the brief.

The commission's attorney, Jeff Mando, told the justices the commission treated Alred fairly, pointing out it dismissed many of the charges against him at his request.

Courts have upheld the validity of the commission's process, Mando said.

Mando also argued in a court document that there was clear evidence that Alred "blatantly and repeatedly used the power and prestige of his office to advance his personal interests with no regard to his ethical responsibilities."

He urged the justices to uphold the removal order.