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Chief Justice to decide if judge presides

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By Thomas Barr

SHEPHERDSVILLE -- Trying to find out why a sentenced felon was released from custody may not be known for some time.

A hearing on the issue was supposed to take place on Friday afternoon in Bullitt Circuit Court.

However, a motion asking the Chief Justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court to decide whether the current circuit judge should hear the case stopped any further action.

The case which started as a final sentencing in circuit court has now morphed into a situation where the county attorney, the sheriff's office and even the county jailer are now involved.

On Oct. 24, Misty Thompson was sentenced to five years of probation with a period of time being served on home incarceration.

Defense attorney Kara Lewis said she felt that her client had agreed to the offer by commonwealth attorney Michael Mann and approved by Bullitt Circuit Judge Rodney Burress.

In the agreement, the home incarceration fees were waived due to the financial condition of Thompson.

When Thompson arrived at the sheriff's office to sign up for HIP; however, with questions about the conditions in the court order, Thompson was not accepted into the program and was released.

From that point on, the reason for Friday's hearing started.

A motion was filed by Robinson on behalf of the county fiscal court, the county attorney's office and the sheriff's office asking to intervene as a party to the court's order and to ask Burress to alter, amend or vacate his ruling for Thompson.

Streble said that  the motion for Burress to disqualify in the case was due to his refusal to hear any testimony from Robinson on the motion.

And the judge instead ordered an investigation to be conducted by commonwealth attorney Michael Mann.

Burress said that he agreed that any case deserves a judge would be fair and impartial. And he felt that he would be that judge on this particular case.

The judge said that parts of the motion were false and misleading. He said that Robinson was not allowed to address a particular issue. However, she was not precluded from making arguments on other matters.

However, since he was handed a motion which was filed during Friday's hearing to ask the Chief Justice to make that decision, Burress concluded the proceedings.

Before the abrupt end of discussion, the question on whether Bullitt County agencies were a party to the circuit court case was argued.

Lewis said she did not feel any other parties should be allowed and her client should not be part of any of the recent discussions.

Mann said in the beginning that he felt the county could be included as a party; however, by the end of the hearing, he changed his opinion. He said his office would not be part of any motion to ask Burress to disqualify himself and there were some statements that he recommended a motion be filed, which was not accurate.

Streble said that the county must be a part of the court's action because when the HIP was ordered, it became part of the county's responsibility.

Calling the order ambiguous, Streble said the motion was filed to clear up some of the conditions of the probation.

As Robinson stated at the original discussion on the motion Oct. 25, the county fiscal court adopted a GPS HIP order which places the sheriff's office in charge of the program. 

The county attorney's office is also part of the administration of the program.

Hookup and daily monitoring fees charged to those on HIP are split between the sheriff's office, the county attorney's office, fiscal court and the vendor.

Without collecting fees, Robinson argued at the time that the taxpayers of the county would be responsible for the HIP and that was not allowed.

As part of that discussion, Burress said that if the $20 daily fee was charged, Thompson would be paying $600 a month, which was more than her income.

Under the county's policies, the defendant would fill out paperwork in advance if they wished to be declared indigent. However, the vast majority of those cases are dealt with in district court, where the county attorney is the chief prosecutor.

Mann acknowledged that when Robinson and assistant county attorney Jeff England contacted him on Oct. 24, the discussion centered on why the sheriff's office could not hook up Thompson. He recalled Robinson saying she would file a motion in circuit court for an emergency hearing.

Lewis said she was never consulted on any opinion for any motion. She just confirmed that she would be available the next morning for a hearing.

Burress said that the shame is that if the three attorneys felt there was an issue, they could have come to his office and talked about it. That, he said, would have avoided the most recent court proceedings.

The judge said after listening to the arguments, he determined that it was not an emergency and he needed more time to gather information.

Mann would not comment on the status of the investigation into why the defendant was allowed to go free without being placed on the HIP.

Burress said that if he wasn't willing to listen to the county's argument to intervene in the case, he would not have set a hearing for Friday.

His concern remained the same as the previous week -- someone was released without his authority, disobeying a court order.

And, now, he is concerned that the civil liberties of the defendant might be violated.

He felt the citizens of the county deserve an answer on why the court order was not followed. In ordering the investigation and by delaying the hearing for a week, Burress said he was hoping to get some of those answers.

Instead, he said nothing would be done until the Chief Justice makes his ruling.

The case drew a large number of people to the courthouse. Various attorneys from Bullitt and Jefferson counties were in attendance, as well as residents from the county.