Kentucky Judges Reject Proposal For More Warrant Approval Transparency

from the more-boilerplate-and-bullets-for-county-residents,-I-guess dept

Scrutiny of warrants and the judges who approve them has stepped up in Louisville, Kentucky after a no-knock raid ended in the killing of an innocent resident by police officers. The shooting of Breonna Taylor sparked protests, reform efforts, and at least one judge's personal moratorium on no-knock warrants.

Cops don't like to talk about their warrants. Affidavits are often filed under seal. Sometimes the seal is lifted once the warrant is served. In other cases, it takes a concerted effort and a court order to make these documents public.

Judges apparently don't like to talk about warrants either. At least, this appears to be the case in Jefferson County, where judges signing warrants are all but impossible to identify by their signatures.

[Charles] King’s was one of 231 Jefferson County search warrants executed since January 2019 and examined by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and WDRB News. That review found dozens of flashy loops, “scribble scrabble,” and identical swirls derived from an electronic image file. Few judges took the time to sign their whole name. Only one printed her last name underneath her signature.  

On the vast majority of search warrants — nearly 72% — the names of the judges who approved them were illegible.

The warrant that led to the raid of King's place contained a single paragraph of narrative -- one that made no mention of any efforts by officers to verify allegations of drug dealing -- and an illegible signature. This makes it impossible to tell who's approving obviously deficient warrant requests. It also makes it pretty easy to forge one, if one were so inclined.

While it's understandable that signatures will deteriorate over time, especially when the signature is in high demand, it's not like it's impossible to counteract this natural declination.

Jefferson District Court Judge Julie Kaelin, takes the extra step of printing her name beneath her signature.

The reason is simple, Kaelin says — she wants to be transparent.

“It is problematic to not be able to look at a warrant and see which judge signed it,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to ever think I’m hiding behind an illegible signature.”

This judge went one step further. She proposed a set of rules for warrant approval that would have increased accountability and transparency from all parties involved.

Under the proposed rule change, which was shared with and reviewed by KyCIR, conversations between judges and law enforcement officers seeking a warrant would be recorded; only specific judges could review a search warrant request on a given day; and a judge who refuses to grant a warrant would be required to file the documents with the Jefferson County Circuit Court Clerk.

Judge Kaelin hopes these measures would "boost confidence in the judiciary," which is always a good thing, especially when controversial searches are still commonplace. This would also cut down on "judge shopping" by law enforcement officers, who may find some judges more compliant (or less attentive) than others.

It appears most of the Jefferson County judiciary isn't interested in bettering its relationship with the people who pay their salaries. Following several days of deafening silence, the Jefferson District court system finally admitted it wasn't going to change anything about its warrant approval process.

The judges met Tuesday to consider the proposal in a secret meeting. In the days that followed, Jefferson District Court Chief Judge Anne Haynie and court administrator Kelsey Doren did not respond to repeated requests about the outcome of the meeting.

On Friday afternoon, Doren said via email that the proposal failed. Minutes from the District Court’s judges’ regular monthly meetings “are confidential,” she said. Doren did not respond to a request for an interview with Chief Judge Haynie.

So much for the presumed openness of the courts. And so much for being receptive to any incremental increases in accountability and transparency. It will be business as usual in Jefferson County, where deficient warrant requests are rewarded with illegible judicial approval. If residents are killed by cops during raids predicated on boilerplate affidavits, so be it. Who needs checks and balances when there's a drug war to be fought?

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Filed Under: 4th amendment, judges, kentucky, secrecy, transparency, warrants


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2020 @ 4:13am

    No knock raids should be illegal, why they are presently tolerated is beyond logic. The war on drugs is where these raids originated, the cops said perps would flush the evidence if they did not rush in to stop them. Not sure how that is supposed to work when cops are at the wrong address or the informant is a liar or cops are dirty.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 25 Nov 2020 @ 4:24am

      Re:

      "Not sure how that is supposed to work when cops are at the wrong address or the informant is a liar or cops are dirty."

      I'm sure the people who originally approved this stuff assumed that the cops would be honest, competent and diligent. Foolish, but that's likely what they thought.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Upstream (profile), 25 Nov 2020 @ 5:13am

        Re: Re:

        assumed that the cops would be honest, competent and diligent.

        But now that we have decades of evidence that this is rarely, if ever, the case, shouldn't judges be more receptive to corrective measures?

        Of course, that makes the assumption that judges would be honest, competent, and diligent, but we are increasingly seeing that is rarely the case, too.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2020 @ 5:37am

        Re: Re:

        I'm sure the people who originally approved this stuff assumed that the cops would be honest, competent and diligent. Foolish, but that's likely what they thought.

        It's Kentucky. No-one thought that. (Disclaimer: I live in Kentucky.) We have the same sayings around here as everywhere else: "Don't call the cops unless you're absolutely sure the situation can't possibly get any worse."

        The real question is how any of this could be considered legal. Illegible signatures, hidden officers, worthless if not outright false / fabricated evidence used to justify action, document seals, etc. It doesn't even pass the smell test. Of course this is also the state where cover ups are common, evidence is ignored, innocent people die, and their murderers are allowed to walk free with not even a slap on the wrist. There is zero accountability for the Courts, the Police, or any other part of the so called "justice" system in Kentucky.

        Take it from someone who lives here: There's a reason Kentucky is fly-over country, and it shouldn't be changing anytime soon. If you can avoid traveling here, do so.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 25 Nov 2020 @ 5:11am

    So, about that third world comparison...

    ...It doesn't say many good things that Kentucky judges by and large go the distance to render warrant approval which, if audited, can not verified to have been approved by a judge.

    Either these judges are so inept at law they fail to realize a document requiring a judge's signature requires that said document, after the fact, must be able to identify the judge signing off on it...
    ...or those judges have such a casual disregard for the law they're supposed to serve they know and do not give two shits about it.

    Kentucky...wasn't that where they also found the police "warrior training" which held quotes and links from and to Robert E. Lee and Mein Kampf?
    I think it was, which prompts the next question - how the hell did a state adopt Judge Roy Bean as it's role model of the judiciary representative?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2020 @ 5:45am

      Re: So, about that third world comparison...

      Kentucky...wasn't that where they also found the police "warrior training" which held quotes and links from and to Robert E. Lee and Mein Kampf?

      Yes, it is.

      how the hell did a state adopt Judge Roy Bean as it's role model of the judiciary representative?

      The same way anything gets done in Kentucky: Bribes, old boys club, secrecy, punishment of those that speak up, and people not caring enough to do anything except bitch about it.

      Only exceptions are religious freedumz, taxes, and minor inconveniences.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 26 Nov 2020 @ 1:38am

        Re: Re: So, about that third world comparison...

        Wow. All that, and it has the honor of being the origin of both Mitch McConnel, the Imperial Klans of America and...the Nordic Fest, celebrating, apparently, the lilywhite heritage of the original Norwegian immigrants.

        Sounds like a delightful place to visit...if you're caucasian and into quaint traditions involving white robes and folk dancing around cross-shaped BBQ's.

        "There once was a man from Kentucky,
        Given a nickname he thought unlucky.
        He was dubbed 'Moscow Mitch',
        also called 'Putin's Bitch',
        because his politics were so ratfucky."

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 25 Nov 2020 @ 9:40am

    No readable signiature, no valid warrant

    Seems there's a very simple fix if those involved actually saw the current system as a problem, and that is a rule/law that any warrant where the signature is illegible should be considered null and void, resulting in complete suppression of any evidence found and grounds for legal challenges of the unconstitutional search.

    Best of all if the incompetent and/or corrupt judges and cops don't like it they can easily solve the problem by simply writing in a manner that's legible, something that young children somehow learn to manage just fine.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2020 @ 11:09am

      Re: No readable signiature, no valid warrant

      take it a step further and treat any officer that's trying to push a warrant that's not legible and charge them with fraud... I mean, if you can't read it, how can it be valid!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Boba Fat (profile), 25 Nov 2020 @ 7:38pm

        Re: Re: No readable signiature, no valid warrant

        I don't see why that isn't a valid reason to throw out any search results. None of my official documents leave the name off: auto license, insurance, house title - they all have the names of all the parties clearly printed. "Who signed this warrant? Really? Prove it."

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 26 Nov 2020 @ 1:40am

        Re: Re: No readable signiature, no valid warrant

        "take it a step further and treat any officer that's trying to push a warrant that's not legible and charge them with fraud... I mean, if you can't read it, how can it be valid!"

        That's exactly what should be done.
        If all you need to have a man's life permanently changed for the worse is for anyone to scribble a series of loops on an official-looking document then that's it for justice.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2020 @ 10:50am

    Isn't a Kentucky judge 'bout the same as a Kentucky colonel?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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