Jefferson District Judge Sandra McLaughlin has admitted making “inappropriate comments” to or about criminal defendants who appeared before her in court, and has accepted a public reprimand from the state Judicial Conduct Commission.
The state commission’s order, issued Monday, said McLaughlin’s comments were “unnecessary, undignified and inconsistent with the presumption of innocence” to which the defendants were entitled.
“These comments brought Judge McLaughlin’s impartiality into question,” the commission’s two-page ruling stated.
The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting revealed last July that McLaughlin repeatedly made derogatory comments from the bench. Those remarks included falsely accusing a defendant of “selling dope to little children,” and warning another defendant who was wearing a Barack Obama T-shirt that he already had one strike against him and was “lucky to get out of here alive.”
The KyCIR report also found that McLaughlin had denied some defendants their right to a public defender, and that her re-election campaign falsely advertised and claimed an endorsement that her opponent had in fact received.
According to the commission’s order she “acknowledges that she made the inappropriate comments.”
The order did not specify what those comments were. McLaughlin’s attorney, Brian Butler, said Wednesday that there were “a few” such remarks, but he declined to provide details.
“She obviously cooperated completely with the investigation … and she looks forward to moving forward and serving the people of Jefferson County,” Butler said.
McLaughlin could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. She did not respond to messages left at her office or on her cell phone, and Butler said she was not available to discuss the commission’s ruling.
McLaughlin was the lowest-rated judge in the county by a wide margin, according to a survey by the Louisville Bar Association. Despite the low ranking and a pattern of demeaning comments in court, McLaughlin easily won re-election in November.
When questioned in July about her courtroom demeanor, McLaughlin didn’t challenge the authenticity of the comments but nevertheless insisted: “Everyone in my court is treated fairly and respectfully.”
The conduct commission, comprised of six members who include three judges, has sole authority to discipline a sitting judge.
Reporter R.G. Dunlop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (502) 814.6533.