New details in central Kentucky grand jury probe
(LEX 18) — Dozens of criminal cases in Scott, Woodford, and Bourbon counties are being called into question as reviews continue into the allegation that too many grand jurors were present for indictment proceedings.
The Kentucky Attorney General’s Office was asked by Circuit Court Judge Jeremy Mattox to investigate a number of individual indictments after it was alleged that Commonwealth’s Attorney Sharon Muse-Johnson on a number of occasions allowed too many grand jurors to be in the room for presentations, deliberations and voting.
By law, only 12 grand jurors can be present for an indictment to be valid.
As of Thursday, the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office was investigating or had investigated 163 indictments as part of the review. Of those, 104 were in Scott County, 38 were in Bourbon County and 21 were in Woodford County.
The investigations into most of those indictments were complete as of Thursday, and the office’s special prosecutions unit is now working to review the findings and prepare reports in each case, said Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman Elizabeth Kuhn.
Several of the case reports released so far say that there were likely too many grand jurors present. In those cases, the attorney general’s office recommended the current indictment be dismissed.
On Thursday, Muse-Johnson told LEX 18 that her office would “re-present each affected case for re-indictment and proceed with each case as scheduled.”
Muse-Johnson took office in 2019. The AG’s inquiry found that it was “common practice” in Scott, Woodford, and Bourbon counties for more than twelve grand jurors to be summoned, according to court records.
Muse-Johnson told the AG’s office that this was not done with the intent to “deprive a defendant of their rights or to create any procedural error,” but to allow contingencies if a grand juror had to be excused, according to one AG report.
During open court on Wednesday, Judge Mattox addressed Muse-Johnson directly after she questioned how re-indictments should be handled.
“The fact is it wasn’t done correctly the first time, this should have been avoided,” Mattox said. “We should not be doing all of this, and the only person that is responsible for that is you.”
Many of the cases in question will likely end up being dismissed and required to be re-presented, Mattox indicated during court.
“We are talking about a lot of taxpayer dollars going into rectifying this issue,” said Karema Eldahan, the directing attorney for the circuit’s public defender’s office.
Once indictments are found to be unconstitutional because of too many grand jurors, those cases should be dismissed and the defendants should be released from jail, Eldahan said.
While Muse-Johnson has said she will re-indict cases that are dismissed, it is not clear whether there will be a window of time between cases being dismissed and being re-indicted again.
“She’ll be re-indicting all these cases while trying to keep up with new ones coming into the system,” Eldahan said. “I don’t have a clue how long that’s going to take.”