Sunday, May 25, 2003

Attorney responds to judges' criticism

Prosecutor says claims overblown

The Associated Press

COVINGTON - Kenton Commonwealth's Attorney Bill Crockett says he's grown frustrated by the criticism he's taken from judges.

All four of the county's circuit judges have complained publicly about Crockett's performance in office. Crockett says the judges should concentrate on doing their own jobs and let him worry about his.

"I make somebody angry in every case," Crockett said. "Usually, it's the defendant or the victim. It shouldn't be the judge."

The judges, however, said they plan to continue speaking out if the situations warrant it. They said some of the problems they have seen with Crockett's office have improved, but others have not.

"Things have not changed as significantly as one would imagine after three years in office," said Circuit Judge Patricia Summe.

Crockett was elected in 2000, defeating longtime incumbent Don Buring, who also had a rocky relationship with the judges.

Within a year of Crockett's taking office, the judges began to publicly criticize his performance and those of his assistants. The rebukes were delivered from the bench and came from all four judges.

The criticisms still continue. In general, the judges have complained that the commonwealth's attorney's office:

• Rushes to indict people, but later finds the evidence doesn't hold up. Prosecutors then ask the judge to dismiss or significantly lower charges.

• Indicts minor crimes as felonies. The judges point to felony charges over an unpaid credit card bill and residue from a crack pipe. The judges contend such offenses should be handled as misdemeanors or in civil court.

The judges also say cases are needlessly delayed because evidence is misplaced, the crime is still being investigated or attorneys in the office are not prepared for trial.

"I weep for the community," Judge Douglas Stephens said in December when he apologized to jurors and said the commonwealth wasted their time presenting a poor case.

In March, Circuit Judge Greg Bartlett said the office's handling of a rape case "makes a mockery of the justice system."

Crockett said he has worked to address some of the judges' concerns, but strongly disagreed that his office operates inefficiently. He added that few of the judges' complaints have any validity. He said it was a case of the judges trying to do his job when they are not aware of all the facts in all the cases.

"I don't think (the judges) would be happy if Clarence Darrow walked in on every case," he said. "They'd still find something to complain about."

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