Lawmakers hear discussions on courts handling of COVID-19, gubernatorial powers, and protests

With all areas of business, government, and life in general impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton presented to the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary Thursday on how the courts have managed cases across the state over the past three months.

“We have been thoughtful and methodical with any decision to reopen our in-person hearings and services,” Minton said. “We have an extra burden to make courts as safe as possible because, unlike most businesses, people don’t have a choice to be at our courts.”

Minton also said that statewide departments within the Judicial Branch have continued operating with success. Pretrial populations have decreased. Judges have worked with jailers to responsibly release as many inmates as possible as quickly as possible.

Minton also cited several cost-saving measures, including virtual hearings for civil dockets, as positive takeaways from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As one of my colleagues in Michigan has said, ‘COVID-19 was not the crisis courts wanted but may be the crisis courts needed,’” Minton added. “Reconsidering way we do business in the midst of this will ultimately increase efficiency in the future.”

Also presenting at Thursday’s committee meeting was Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who discussed the Governor’s power during the state of emergency, specifically in Chapter 39 A of the Kentucky Revised Statutes.

“Governor Beshear’s declaration of state of emergency was unprecedented because it applied to the entire state for an undefined period of time,” Cameron said, further arguing that the Legislature should have more oversight in the emergency process.

Cameron went on to argue that there is no mechanism outside of the courts to providing checks and balances on the administration during an emergency, suggesting a “comment and appeal” process where executive orders made by the Governor could be changed, potentially allowing the legislature to have input as to when the state of emergency would end.

Finally, with ongoing protests in Louisville over police brutality, the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary also welcomed Louisville Metro Councilman David James and ACLU field organizer Keturah Herron to testify on issues of racial injustice at the committee’s first meeting of the interim session.

Councilman James, a former police officer in Louisville went through the events that led to the death of Breonna Taylor and David McAtee, both African-American Louisville residents who were shot in the past three months by Louisville police.

“We know the majority of police are good people that serve and protect all people equally,” James said. “But just like any profession, there are bad actors. We need the Legislature’s help in giving us the authority to deal with those bad actors and provide justice for the victims’ families.”

Herron, who is also a member of the Black Lives Matter movement, said that legislation should require more race and gender data to be collected in the policies passed by the General Assembly.

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