Suit claims judges illegally banned public defender
The public defender's office is suing two Whitley County District Judges for "banishing" one of its lawyers for allegedly undermining the court, showing a lack of respect, and for interfering with security.On Dec. 10, the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy filed suit in Whitley Circuit Court asking Judge Paul Braden to in effect overrule an administrative order issued by District Judges Dan Ballou and Cathy Prewitt on Nov. 3, barring Carol R. Camp from appearing in district court. "Due to the past behavior of Carol Camp of the Public Defender's Office in Whitley District Court, including but not limited to undermining the court with regard to the juvenile docket; showing a lack of respect for the court; interfering with court security, which is a contemptuous act; and reviewing confidential files in the court clerk's office in which she was not involved as an attorney, it is hereby ordered that Carol Camp shall no longer be permitted to practice in either division of the Whitley District Court. This action has been taken after unsuccessful efforts were made to have the public defender's office handle the matter internally," Ballou and Prewitt wrote in their order. The petition for writ of mandamus and prohibition, which was filed Dec. 10, seeks to have the order rescinded and to keep Prewitt and Ballou from entering any similar order in the future. "DPA (Department of Public Advocacy) believes that this order was entered not because of any improprieties on the part of Ms. Camp, but because ... Ms. Camp has encountered systematic and persistent resistance from respondents to permit her to even attempt to make legal arguments and objections on behalf of her clients in Whitley Juvenile Court," the lawsuit stated. "If respondents illegal order is allowed to stand, it will have a chilling effect not only on all DPA attorneys who practice before the Whitley District Courts, but on all attorneys who practice before the Whitley District Courts." The lawsuit claims that the district court judges had no jurisdiction to ban a licensed attorney from practicing in that court, and that Ballou and Prewitt stepped outside their jurisdiction in doing so. It also claims that the administrative order is an "arbitrary judicial branch attempt" to exert authority over the department of public advocacy in violation of the state constitution, and that it violates clients rights to "zealous counsel." In addition, the lawsuit contends that neither Ballou nor Prewitt ever "made any attempt, whether by holding a contempt hearing, filing a bar complaint, or by some other means, to handle the matters about which they now complain at the time that these incidents allegedly occurred. "Respondents, therefore, have waived any complaints that they may have had about Ms. Camp's actions and they must be stopped from complaining about Ms. Camp's alleged misconduct at this late stage." According to the lawsuit, Camp was hired on April 16, 2004, by the public advocates office as a juvenile specialist to address deficits found in juvenile court representation. As of early Tuesday afternoon, no response had been filed in the court file to the allegations. Problem cases The lawsuit lists cases involving 11 juveniles where Camp reportedly objected to either Prewitt or Ballou's handling of the cases or rulings made. The lawsuit identified the juveniles in court documents by letters to preserve their confidentiality. • On April 20, 2004, client A appeared before Ballou to be arraigned on a habitual truancy charge, and he sentenced her to 34 days in juvenile detention. She was not represented by counsel at the hearing, and received no notice of the contempt hearing. Camp was contacted about the matter on April 22, and on April 30, Judge Paul Braden reversed Ballou's ruling and remanded the case back to juvenile court. • On July 7, Ballou issued pickup orders authorizing the detention of clients B and C for failure to appear in juvenile drug court. On July 13, Prewitt held the two in contempt when they appeared for juvenile drug court, and sentenced client B to 14 days of juvenile detention and client C to 30 days of juvenile detention. Neither was represented by an attorney at the hearing. On July 20, Camp learned about the contempt rulings, and filed motions to seek their immediate release on July 23. Ballou denied both motions, and client B served out his 14 day sentence. On Aug. 4, Kentucky Court of Appeals Judge Julia Tackett entered an order granting a motion for emergency relief and released client C from detention on Aug. 6. • On Aug. 9, client D appeared in juvenile court represented by Camp and charged with contempt of court. "Although client D had no pending case before the Whitley Juvenile Court, respondent Prewitt held client D in contempt of court and sentenced her to seven days in juvenile detention," the lawsuit stated. Camp filed a notice of appeal, but couldn't get a stay on the judgment issued before her client served out the sentence. • On Sept. 7, Camp appeared in juvenile court before Ballou. Client E, who was 17 years old, was charged with first offense DUI, first-degree wanton endangerment, and disorderly conduct. When Ballou and Whitley County Attorney Paul Winchester wanted to send the case back to juvenile court, Camp objected saying client E was at least 16 years old, and that the charge had to remain in the adult session of the court. The lawsuit claims that although the department of public advocacy had been appointed to represent client E, Ballou granted a motion made by another attorney, unbeknownst to Camp, remanding the DUI charge back to juvenile court. • On Sept. 21, Camp appeared in juvenile court before Ballou. Client F was arraigned on a fourth-degree assault charge in which his mother was the alleged victim. "Although Client F and his mother were respondent Ballou's cousins, respondent Ballou did not recuse himself. Although Ms. Camp was present in the courtroom and willing and able to accept court appointments, respondent Ballou appointed a private attorney, Leroy Gilbert, to represent client F," the lawsuit stated. "When Ms. Camp asked respondent Ballou why she was not being appointed, respondent Ballou replied, 'Because I said so.' Respondent Ballou also told Ms. Camp that she was 'setting a very poor example for this young man.'" • On Oct. 4, Camp appeared in juvenile court before Prewitt. Clients G and H were both arraigned on habitual truancy charges, and Prewitt appointed Camp to represent them. After reviewing the files, Camp discovered that neither case had been processed through the court designated worker's office, and she made oral motions to dismiss both cases for lack of jurisdiction, but Prewitt overruled her objections. • On Oct. 5, Camp appeared in juvenile court before Ballou. Clients I and J appeared for arraignment, and were charged with being habitual runaways. "Although respondent Ballou entered preadjudication status orders that subjected both juveniles to the possibility of contempt sanctions and incarceration in the Laurel Regional Juvenile Detention Center, respondent Ballou denied Ms. Camp's request to be appointed as counsel for both children," the lawsuit stated. • On Oct. 5, client K was brought to juvenile court charged with contempt of court. "When respondent Ballou asked client K to tell him what had happened, Ms. Camp objected, arguing that client K could not be compelled to incriminate himself in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution," the lawsuit stated. "Respondent Ballou persisted in questioning client K. Despite Ms. Camp's objection, respondent Ballou made fun of client K in open court, asking school officials what kind of Nazis' they were for not allowing client K to call the school resource officer a 'son of a ...'" After the hearing Ballou held client K in contempt and sentenced him to 14 days in juvenile detention. Sheriff's Deputy Jerry Noe, the court bailiff, then took client K into the hallway outside the courtroom. According to the lawsuit, Camp heard client K's voice rising in the hallway, thought he might be getting into more trouble, and stepped out into the hallway. Noe then told Camp she "needed to leave," and she stepped back into the courtroom, the lawsuit stated. After completing the court docket that day, Ballou excused Camp from the courtroom, but she was stopped in the hallway by Noe, who said, "We have to talk." The lawsuit states Camp was in the hallway waiting for Noe, who stepped back in the courtroom, to return when she was approached by Circuit Court Clerk Gary Barton. "He told Ms. Camp that he had been informed that she was 'rifling' through juvenile court files and that she was not allowed to look at any court files if she was not appointed to the case. Mr. Barton did not identify by name any files Ms. Camp allegedly 'rifled' through," the lawsuit states. Access to juvenile court records is closely restricted, and only parties directly taking part in the court are allowed to access to them aside from court personnel. Noe then returned and told Camp that she knew what she did, that she committed a felony, and that he had informed the judge, the county attorney, and his supervisor, the lawsuit stated. Camp told Noe minutes later that she had no intention of interfering with the performance of his duties, and that her primary concern was to keep her client from causing Noe problems. Meeting with judges On Oct. 25, Ballou called the public defender's office in London, and informed Assistant Public Advocate Greta Price that if Camp appeared in Corbin to handle juvenile cases that afternoon, she would be escorted out of the courtroom. Camp was reportedly banished from appearing in juvenile court after a meeting on Oct. 26 with her supervisor, Roger Gibbs, Ballou, Prewitt, County Attorney Paul Winchester, Barton, and Noe. During the meeting, Ballou and Prewitt stated they had "concerns" about the manner in which Camp conducted herself in Whitley Juvenile Court, according to the lawsuit. "Prewitt contended that Ms. Camp had been disrespectful to the court on several occasions and that she had undermined the court's authority by advising her clients that 'the judge can't do that.' According to respondent Prewitt, these alleged actions had 'destroyed the courtroom relationship.' Respondent Prewitt mentioned no specific examples of such occurrences," the lawsuit stated. During the meeting, Ballou claimed Camp had shown several "lapses" in judgment, including the one incident where she objected to remanding the client's DUI case back to juvenile court, the lawsuit stated. " Barton then contended that he had received 'several' reports that Ms. Camp had looked through juvenile court files in cases in which she was not appointed as counsel of record," the lawsuit noted. When asked to provide a list of names of persons whose files Camp examined, Barton named one juvenile, whom Camp examined their file to see whether the department of public advocacy represented them, the lawsuit stated. "When Ms. Camp advised the group that she had not looked at any other files since her conversation with Mr. Barton on Oct. 5, 2004, no further discussion of this matter occurred," the lawsuit stated. "Respondents Ballou and Prewitt concluded the meeting by informing Mr. Gibbs that Ms. Camp would no longer be permitted to appear in any matter before the Whitley Juvenile Court. Respondent Prewitt urged Mr. Gibbs to handle the matter 'internally' so that she and respondent Ballou 'would not have to take the next step,'" the lawsuit contended. On Oct. 28, Gibbs and Camp met with Chief District Judge John Knox Mills, who informed them that he had already discussed the situation with Ballou and Prewitt. Mills reportedly told Camp and Gibbs that while he didn't agree with the decision, he would not intervene, and advised them to consult with members of the department of public advocacy's management team to devise a course of action. "Judge Mills advised Mr. Gibbs that he had never seen Ms. Camp do anything unethical in his courtroom," the lawsuit noted. On Nov. 2, Gibbs and Camp went to Corbin to meet with Prewitt to tender an order that would either grant or deny Camp the right to appear in juvenile court on behalf of her clients. "When Ms. Camp and Mr. Gibbs appeared in the courtroom, respondent Prewitt immediately called them and her bailiff into chambers. Ms. Camp and Mr. Gibbs then tendered a proposed order," the lawsuit stated. "Respondent Prewitt briefly reviewed the memorandum and told Ms. Camp and Mr. Gibbs that she would not be signing their proposed order, but would instead enter her own order. "Respondent Prewitt further advised that her forthcoming order would bar Ms. Camp not only from practicing in Whitley Juvenile Court, but also from practicing in any of the Whitley District Courts, including the adult divisions."
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