Hit with misconduct charges, Judge Russell Alred responds with federal lawsuit
Alred was notified by the judicial conduct commission on February 18, 2011 that it "had concluded that formal proceedings should be initiated". On March 17, Alred filed a federal lawsuit against the judicial conduct commission saying that his 14th Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution were being violated by the state judicial ethics agency. Alred also filed a response with the commission; in that response, he denied all the charges against him. He told a reporter for the Associated Press that "It's all politically motivated by individuals who worked diligently against me in my 2006 election. And they have conspired, encouraged and prompted numerous false allegations to be made against me."
The list of charges against Alred is lengthy. It includes:
- Alred appointed a special grand jury to investigate charges against a candidate for Harlan County Judge-Executive. That candidate, Joe Grieshop, ran against Alred's cousin. The order for the appointment of the special grand jury said that the special grand jury should investigate allegations of drug trafficking by the judge-executive from his office in the courthouse. The order for the appointment of this special grand jury became public, and it named both the target of the investigation and the nature of the investigation. The Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission says that this was improper, writing, "In the special grand jury order, you identified the county judge as the target of an on-going drug investigation to discredit him." At the same time that Alred wrote the order for the special grand jury, Commonwealth's Attorney Henry Johnson had a regular grand jury investigate the accusations against Grieshop. That regular grand jury exonerated Grieshop, who went on to win his election.
- Alred "angrily confronted" Henry Johnson for putting the matter before the regular grand jury, according to the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission's list of charges and, on the same day as that angry confrontation, revoked Johnson's electronic access to the county courthouse.
- Alred asked two defendants in a drug case to pay the county $1 million, with the money to be spent at Alred's discretion. The defendants eventually paid $500,000. Alred asked the county's fiscal court to spend the money building a water park. According to the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission, the state's ethics rules for judges prohibit judges from appearing at the public hearings of legislative bodies, unless they are there to consult about matters related to the law.
- According to the complaint, Alred ordered drug tests for some people who came before his bench without any probable cause to believe that a drug test was appropriate.
- Alred's cousin, John Clem, worked in a job at the county's jail. After Clem quit the job, Alred approached the jail's administrator and requested that when Clem filed for unemployment benefits, the administrator allow that to go through.
- In several cases, according to the judicial commission's complaint, Alred went to the police and asked them to initiate investigations against certain parties and then, when those investigations resulted in charges against individuals, presided over the cases. According to the ethics commission, judges should not preside over cases unless they are impartial and asking the police to initiate an investigation in the first place is a key marker of a lack of impartiality.
- Alred ordered an employee of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to disclose confidential information.
- At a time when he had a complaint about a Kentucky Utilities rate issue before the state's Public Service Commission, Alred asked an attorney for Kentucky Utilities for a $12,500 donation in a conversation during which Alred also said he might drop the complaint against Kentucky Utilities. According to the ethics commission, judges in Kentucky are not allowed to personally solicit donations; nor should they solicit donations -- were they allowed to solicit donations -- with an implied quid pro quo.
- In a child custody case that had been assigned to another judge, Alred instead called an attorney to file a motion on the matter in his court; Alred ruled on that motion to pre-emptively give custody to the paternal grandparents.