This is an installment of reporter Julia Fair's series "By the way, NKY." Here, you'll find what's going on in Northern Kentucky.
If there's something you think should be included, email reporter Julia Fair at [email protected]
More information on Judge Ruttle's suspension
Last month, Northern Kentucky learned Kenton County District Court Judge Ann Ruttle had gotten in trouble.
The Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission suspended Ruttle without pay for seven days from April 15 to April 22. Ruttle violated three rules in the Code of Judicial Conduct for the way she handled court proceedings last summer, according to court documents.
Ruttle first won election as a judge in 1994. She is now the Chief District Court Judge for Kenton County and makes $118,372 a year.
A lot of readers reached out to me who were shocked. They wanted to know more about what happened to cause the suspension for a judge who, it seemed, was widely respected.
So, I want to explain what we know, what we don’t know, and why.
Ruttle did not respond to The Enquirer’s multiple phone calls and emails.
First, the commission said Ruttle erred when she required defendants in criminal trials to file written demands for jury trials. It didn’t say how many cases that included.
I called University of Kentucky Legal Clinic director Allison Connelly, an expert in criminal law and procedure, to ask about the written demands.
Connelly told me a jury trial in a criminal case is a “fundamental right.” A judge can only ask someone if they want to waive a jury trial, not require a written demand for one, Connelly said.
She said the only time a judge can require a written request is during a civil case.
Next, I wanted to get some context on the two other decisions the commission flagged. According to the commission, Ruttle was wrong when she:
- Made comments to Department of Public Advocacy attorneys that were "not patient, dignified, and courteous."
- Suggested an unrepresented person enter into a plea agreement that "could be reasonably be perceived as coercive."
It’s hard to say exactly what the commission relied on to make its decision because I can’t get public records on the commission’s investigative file.
That file is not subject to the Kentucky Open Records Act, Judicial Conduct Commission Executive Secretary Jimmy Shaffer told me in an email.
But I, and readers, still had questions about what happened. I followed a clue from the suspension order when it referenced the case Commonwealth v. Raeshod Dell. Dell was charged with public intoxication and strangulation from a December 31, 2019 incident.
There are likely more cases that contributed to the two complaints filed against Ruttle because the suspension order mentioned multiple written jury demands instead of just one.
I requested video recordings of Dell's case from the Kenton County Circuit Clerk office and got about 10 minutes of video to review.
In the videos, embedded below, you’ll see Ruttle say Dell should no longer have a public defender because he's out of custody. During two separate court appearances in June, attorneys asked Ruttle to hold a hearing to see if Dell qualified for a public defender. Both times she said no.
On August 24, 2020, Dell appeared in Ruttle's courtroom and they talked about whether he qualified for a public defender. Ruttle did not believe Dell did, and asked him to bring back documents, such as paycheck stubs and child support payment schedules, that show he qualified for a public defender.
In the meantime, though, Ruttle said Dell would have to go back on the ankle monitor, which upset him.
"It's up to you. If you plead guilty you'll be credited your time served," Ruttle said in the video. "Waive the public defender or, I'll have the hearing. Bring me all of those documents, that's what I need."
Dell repeatedly asked for a jury trial. Ruttle told him she first needed to see if he qualified for a public defender.
Dell will get that jury trial, scheduled for Sept. 16, according to the most recent court filings.
COVID-19 resources for NKY residents
Need a COVID-19 test? Here are some helpful links to resources in Northern Kentucky:
That's it for this installment of By the way, NKY. Let us know if there's something you think we should include in the next. In the meantime, here are some other ways to keep up with your community:
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Julia is the Northern Kentucky government reporter through the Report For America program. The Enquirer needs local donors to help fund her grant-funded position. If you want to support Julia's work, you can donate to her Report For America position at this website or email her editor Carl Weiser at [email protected] to find out how you can help fund her work.
Do you know something she should know? Send her a note at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @JFair_Reports.
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