Kentucky’s Attorney General Argues For Mandatory Expungement Fees Thursday, May 27 2021 

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron is wading into a precedent-setting legal battle to determine if the fees associated with expunging a criminal record can be waived for people who can’t afford them.

Frederick Jones, a 56-year old Louisville man, sought a waiver in 2018 for a then-$500 fee to clear a decades old felony theft charge from his record. A Jefferson Circuit court ruled he had to pay. And when the Kentucky Supreme Court takes up the case, Cameron will be advocating for that ruling to be upheld.

In doing so, the court would set a standard that anyone wanting a felony expungement must pay fees, currently set at $300. Criminal justice reform advocates and voting rights activists say that will impede access to expungement, a process needed for many people with criminal convictions who want to reclaim their right to vote, bear arms, participate in their kids’ school activities and get jobs.

Since July 2016, more than 3,200 people in Kentucky have utilized expungement, according to a report from the League of Women Voters of Kentucky.

When then-Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat, was involved with the case in 2018, he effectively said in a brief that the state had no dog in the fight, and took no position.

Now, as the case sits before the state’s Supreme Court, Republican Cameron is taking a stance opposing fee-free expungement for indigent people, a position his office says is based on his interpretation of state law. 

“We believed it was important to weigh in,” said Elizabeth Kuhn, a spokesperson for Cameron, in an emailed statement. “This case has nothing to do with politics. The question is not a policy one, but a legal one, and it’s the Attorney General’s job to defend the law as passed by the General Assembly.”

 In a brief filed with the court last month, Cameron argued that an expungement is a privilege and so there must be a fee.

Under state law, the fees are collected into an “expungement fund” that is divided among the courts, state police, prosecutors, and the state’s Department for Libraries and Archives.

“The whole purpose of [the expungement law] will be frustrated if the agencies tasked with expunging felony records are impeded by a lack of funding,” Cameron argued.

Voting rights advocates say the purpose of the law is not to collect revenue but instead provide people a process for regaining their constitutional rights. Frustrating fees highlight the privilege of decision-makers, said Kat Calvin, founder of the California-based nonprofit voting rights organization Spread the Vote.

She likened the costs to a poll tax.

“It’s just one of the many, many, many ways that we ensure that if you ever make a mistake in this country, you are punished for it forever,” Calvin said.  

It’s far more noble to protect and encourage a person’s ability to fully reintegrate into society, Calvin said, than to generate revenue for the state’s budget, which estimates bringing in $10.8 million from court costs in 2022.  

Who Gets To Vote

Regaining the right to vote is a key benefit of the state’s expungement law. Kentucky is one of just a few states to issue lifetime voting bans for people convicted of felonies, and the state’s disenfranchisement rate is one of the nation’s highest, according to the report from the local League of Women Voters group.

More than 197,000 Kentuckians are considered disenfranchised due to a past felony conviction, according to the League of Women Voters report. Nearly 39,000 Black voters are disenfranchised, about 15% of the total Black voting-age population, a rate that’s more than twice the national average according to the report.

“It’s a disgrace,” said Corey Shapiro, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.

Mandating a fee sends a message that if you’re poor, then you cannot participate in our democracy, Shapiro said.

“Do we as a Commonwealth believe the right to vote is a core fundamental right, that people deserve that… if they can afford the fee or not?” he asked. 

Politics must also be considered, said Dewey Clayton, a professor in the University of Louisville’s department of political science. He says Cameron’s position in this case could be perceived as a political play with lasting impacts, even if it’s not the intent.

Republican lawmakers and officials across the nation are pushing — often successfully — to restrict voting access. In Kentucky, state leaders drew acclaim last year for passing bipartisan legislation that expanded voting access by, most notably, cementing an in-person early voting process, providing secure drop-boxes and the ability to request an absentee ballot online. 

Calvin, the voting rights advocate, said politics shouldn’t play a role —  but it is politicians that decide who gets to vote.

“Unfortunately, that’s the reality.”

Attorneys Battle It Out In Briefs

Jones’s case goes back to a 2018 ruling by Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Audra J. Eckerle, who denied his request to waive the then-$500 expungement costs due to his inability to pay. Jones, who declined an interview request, argued that he should be covered by state law allowing waivers for people unable to pay court fees.

But the judge said that the state expungement law doesn’t address fee waivers, and that her hands were tied.

“[Jones’] remedy more appropriately lies with the legislature that enacted the mandatory fee without specifying a waiver mechanism,” Eckerle wrote in her order denying his request to waive the fee.

Jones appealed the judge’s decision to the Kentucky Appeals Court, but the outcome didn’t change. 

“Expungement is not a right but a statutory privilege – a privilege the General Assembly has no obligation to provide at all, and which it may therefore provide subject to conditions that our Courts are not at liberty to ignore,” the judges said in the majority opinion.

Jones’s attorneys disagree. 

A state law known as the in forma pauperis statute allows people “to file or defend any action or appeal therein without paying costs.” An expungement should be considered a court action, which would therefore qualify the fees associated with an expungement to be waived, said Michael Abate, an attorney representing Jones. (Abate has represented KyCIR in some legal issues.)

Legislators did not need to specify that the fees could be waived because the statute allowing the waiver of fees for poor people already existed, Abate said.

“There is simply no basis to assume, as the Court of Appeals did, that the General Assembly intended the expungement law to silently overrule the [in forma pauperis] statute,” Abate wrote in their brief filed with the Supreme Court.

The attorney general argued otherwise — that there is no “fundamental right” to expungement. Instead, Cameron said it is a product of “legislative grace.” Since legislators did not explicitly state the fees can be waived, he said, they must be considered unquestionably mandatory. 

But Republican state Sen. Jimmy Higdon, the sponsor of recent expungement legislation, said  that was not his intent.

“It’s common practice in Kentucky that if a defendant cannot pay a fee, a judge has a discretion to waive it,” Higdon said in a 2019 interview with KyCIR. “If I wanted to block them from getting a fee waived, I would have put wording in there to block it.”

One thing all sides agree on is that Jones did, in fact, qualify as indigent under state law when he sought the waiver in 2018. At the time, he was earning less than $1,000 monthly.

Since his case began, the costs for obtaining a felony expungement have dropped to $300, according to state law, plus a $40 certification fee required by the Kentucky State Police. Gov. Andy Beshear also issued an executive order days after assuming office in 2019 that automatically restored the rights for about 178,000 people convicted of non-violent crimes.

But Jones wasn’t one of them.

And an executive order isn’t a permanent fix, said Shapiro, with the ACLU.

“People who cannot pay should not have to pay to have their voting rights restored,” he said. “That is unacceptable and it should not be a way that we treat people who live in our commonwealth.”

The post Kentucky’s Attorney General Argues For Mandatory Expungement Fees appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Search Warrant Task Force Has Big Job And Looming Deadline Monday, May 24 2021 

The Kentucky Attorney General’s search warrant task force has just seven months to get a grip on the state’s sprawling system of issuing and executing search warrants and provide recommendations for possible reform.

They met for the first time Monday, nine months after Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced his intent to form the task force in the wake of Louisville police officers killing Breonna Taylor while executing a search warrant. The meeting’s light agenda consisted of introductions, a presentation on the history of search warrants and members receiving subcommittee assignments.

The group will have until the end of the year to conclude its work, Cameron said. Though the task force was announced last September, he issued an executive order formalizing the body in January, setting the course for finishing the work before the new year. Months later, as KyCIR reported that the group hadn’t met or set any plans to do so, he announced the members of the 18-member group and set the first meeting.

The task force will meet monthly throughout the year, breaking off into three subcommittees to review the ways search warrants are secured, reviewed, and executed. 

“It’s very clear how important this responsibility is,” Cameron said in his opening remarks. “We will work very well together over the course of these next six or seven months.”

The group is made up largely of police, prosecutors, judges, legislators and representatives of government bodies. Introductions filled a bulk of the meeting, during which many offered a bridled enthusiasm for their task of examining the system that lacks uniformity across the state.

“There’s about 120 different ways to do it,” said Joseph Ross, the Logan County Attorney and task force member representing the Kentucky County Attorney’s Association.

The sprawling scope of search warrant systems is complicated further by the lack of any statewide or sometimes even local database where warrants can be accessed, making the collection and review a cumbersome, if not impossible, process, said Damon Preston, the state’s Public Advocate.

Preston wants to know how many warrants were sought, approved and executed, or denied. But presently “we have no way of knowing,” he said.

“I hope we can create a foundation for accessing data moving forward,” Preston said.

Investing in search warrant technology upgrades for court systems is on the radar for state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, the chair of the senate judiciary committee and a member of the task force.

“To make things more efficient and simpler,” he said. 

The work of the task force will help guide legislators as they draft policy and allocate funds in the future, Westerfield said.

Judge On Search Warrant Task Force Disciplined For Public Opinions on Search Warrant Procedure

Police representatives on the task force offered little insight into what, if any, specific reforms they’re seeking in regards to search warrants.

Joe Monroe, the chief of the University of Kentucky Police Department and representative for the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police, said only that he’s hoping to develop a statewide model that’s fair and safe for everyone. 

But any effort to impose strict uniformity across the state’s jurisdictions will likely be met with opposition.

Rob Sanders, the Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney, said he’s “read in the media” that some jurisdictions “need a lot more improvement than others.”

“I want to make sure that in the process of fixing one circuit we don’t manage to break another circuit,” he said. 

The group has faced scrutiny for the lack of urgency in meeting and for being comprised mostly of members of the law enforcement community. 

Preston, the public advocate, raised one more voice he thought was missing: the people who get searched.

“That’s the most important part of this,” Preston said. “Not just the technical parts of how you get it, but what are the real life impacts of a search warrant.”

The post Search Warrant Task Force Has Big Job And Looming Deadline appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Daniel Cameron Promised Search Warrants Analysis Eight Months Ago. It Hasn’t Started Thursday, May 6 2021 

Moments after Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron acknowledged a grand jury wasn’t charging the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor for her death, he made a promise.

He stood at a podium last September, surrounded by reporters from across the world, and pledged to form a task force to review the process for securing and executing search warrants like the one that led to Taylor’s death.

Kate Howard

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron.

Cameron indicated a sense of urgency, saying he would issue an executive order “in the coming days.”

But that didn’t happen until four months later. And nearly eight months later, the task force has yet to even meet.

The first meeting hasn’t been scheduled. Six members told the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting earlier this week they have received little guidance from the Attorney General and are unsure what the specific aim of the task force will be, beyond it’s broad goal of examining the state’s disjointed search warrant system. 

The task force assembled by Cameron could be a mechanism to understand the full scope of search warrant processes in Kentucky — which can vary from county to county and judge to judge.

It’s just not doing anything.

“I’m disappointed,” said Damon Preston, the state’s Public Advocate and member of the task force.

Department of Public Advocacy

Public Advocate Damon Preston

The time is now to put the entire search warrant system under the microscope, Preston said.

Presumably, the task force would do just that, according to an executive order issued by Cameron on January 21 — about four months after he initially pledged to assemble the group. 

The group’s members stem from the most powerful corners of the criminal justice system: legislators, judges, prosecutors, and police.

Such a group could be instrumental in ushering in any search warrant reforms in the future, said state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a task force member and Republican chair of the Senate’s judiciary committee.

But he’s yet to get an invite to any meeting to begin the work.

“The point of the group is to function, to serve its purpose,” he said. “It needs to be doing that.”

Taylor’s death thrust into the forefront the process by which search warrants are obtained and executed. Police killed the 26-year-old Black woman in her home while executing a so-called no knock search warrant, though LMPD officials insist the officers knocked anyway.  

The killing led the Louisville Metro Council to ban the use of no knock warrants locally, and state lawmakers passed legislation to limit the use of such warrants. 

Cameron’s office was appointed the special prosecutor after Louisville’s commonwealth’s attorney recused himself. One officer, Brett Hankison, was indicted by a grand jury on reckless endangerment charges for bullets that traveled into a neighboring apartment, but Cameron’s prosecutors didn’t seek any charges related to Taylor’s death.

Elizabeth Kuhn, Cameron’s spokesperson, said the task force’s lack of action is due to a few reasons, chief among them the desire to wait until the General Assembly concluded. The session started in January 5, about three months after Cameron’s announcement and concluded on March 30.

“Given that the law on search warrants was likely to change, the decision was made that the Task Force would not convene until the conclusion of the session so that the group could review all current law regarding the search warrant process,” she said in an emailed statement.

“Moreover, we’ve been looking forward to the day where in-person meetings could be possible for those who choose to do so,” she added.

In January, Cameron issued a list detailing which agencies would be represented on the group, though he didn’t name the members. 

Written at the bottom of the memo: The group’s first meeting would be set in the coming weeks.

“I would have expected much more traction for an initiative like this,” said Ramon McGee, a Louisville attorney and task force member who will represent the Kentucky Conference of the NAACP.

“We need a blueprint for what we are doing and that blueprint needs to come from the top down,” he said.

The processes by which search warrants are obtained and executed are largely hidden from the public, McGee said.

Opening that process up for review can make way for the candid conversations McGee said are needed to understand why police so often believe “this most invasive type of investigative procedure” is necessary.

McGee also hopes to examine the system for how police present warrants to judges for approval, in addition to data on how many warrants are applied for, how many are issued, and where warrants are executed.

Presently, police officers will apply for a warrant by presenting an affidavit of investigative findings of probable cause to a judge. McGee said law enforcement can create a perception of the need for search and seizure by simply painting a community as dangerous.

He said judges can grow to be desensitized to the effect of the search warrant. 

“This is the real problem,” McGee said. “This is not a criticism of the judiciary, but of the system.”

Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Charles Cunningham, who will represent the Kentucky Court of Justice on the task force, said he won’t be coming in with a fixed focus on any reforms.

But he’s anxious to get to work.

“I haven’t heard anything,” he said. “So I don’t know.”

On Thursday, Kuhn issued a press release which for the first time listed the members of the task force.

In it, there was another promise.

“The task force will announce the date of its first meeting in the coming days.”

Contact Jacob Ryan at jryan@kycir.org.

The post Daniel Cameron Promised Search Warrants Analysis Eight Months Ago. It Hasn’t Started appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Attorney General Asks Judge To Deny Grand Juror’s Request To Speak Publicly Wednesday, Oct 7 2020 

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Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron asked a judge to deny a grand jurors request to break secrecy and speak publicly about the proceedings that led to the indictment of one former police officer in the Breonna Taylor case.

An anonymous juror asked a Jefferson County judge to order the release of transcripts and free jurors of their requirement not to speak about the case presented to them by the attorney generals office. In a motion filed Wednesday, Cameron asked the judge to dismiss the request, and said he and the Commonwealths Attorneys Association have grave concerns about ensuring the secrecy of these proceedings.

[A] request by a single member of a grand jury, or even the grand jury itself, cannot be permitted to overcome the important public interest of the Commonwealth in maintaining the proper functioning of the criminal justice system in general and the grand jury process in particular, Camerons motion said.


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Analysis: In Breonna Taylor Killing, Grand Jury Proceedings And Aftermath Are Unusual Monday, Oct 5 2020 

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The criminal grand jury process is shrouded in secrecy.

But even attorneys familiar with how the process works remain puzzled by the outcome and fallout from the case brought by Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, whose office investigated the killing of Breonna Taylor by Louisville Metro Police officers in March.

“A prosecutor leads the grand jury to whatever he needs them to be led to,” said Heather Crabbe, an attorney who served as a public defender for six years in Northern Kentucky. 


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Grand Jury Tapes Raise New Questions About No-Knock Warrant Execution Friday, Oct 2 2020 

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Last week, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron presented the results of his office’s investigation into the police killing of Breonna Taylor. In laying out the evidence they had gathered over months of investigating, he answered one of the most persistent questions about what happened that night: 

“Evidence shows that officers both knocked and announced their presence at the apartment,” Cameron said. “The officer’s statements about their announcement are corroborated by an independent witness who was near in a proximity to apartment four,” where Taylor lived.


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Brett Hankison Claimed He Knew Where ‘Threat Was’ When He Shot At Breonna Taylor’s Apartment Friday, Oct 2 2020 

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Former Louisville police detective Brett Hankison claimed in a March police interview that the shooter had an AR-15 rifle and he thought fellow officers were being executed during the deadly operation at Breonna Taylor’s apartment.


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Breonna Taylor Grand Jury Recordings: What We Know So Far Friday, Oct 2 2020 

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Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office has made public more than 15 hours of audio recordings of grand jury proceedings related to the Breonna Taylor case.

The recordings offered little in the way of bombshells or answers to the biggest questions to follow the grand jurys indictment last week: did prosecutors recommended any charges beyond those the grand jury indicted on, and how did they summarized the case in statements to the grand jury?

Fifteen hours of tapes reviewed by WPFL reporters turned up few statements of any kind from prosecutors that would shed light on those questions. Only evidence was recorded, according to a press release from the Attorney Generals office announcing compliance with the order Friday.


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AG Cameron To Release Breonna Taylor Grand Jury Recordings Today Friday, Oct 2 2020 

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Attorney General Daniel Camerons office must make public more than 20 hours of audio recordings of grand jury proceedings related to the Breonna Taylor case by midday Friday.

A Jefferson County judge ordered the release as part of the criminal proceedings against former Louisville Metro Police detective Brett Hankison. Parties ranging from lawyers for Taylors family to politicians to concerned citizens have called for the public release of the recordings, as well as other evidence presented to the grand jury, since last week.

Thats when the grand jury indicted Hankison on wanton endangerment charges for bullets that entered an apartment of Taylors neighbors. No one was charged for her March 13 killing, a decision that has intensified national scrutiny of Louisville, the justice system and Cameron.


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Campus responds to Breonna Taylor charges Wednesday, Sep 23 2020 

By Joseph Garcia — 

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced a Jefferson County Grand Jury would charge only one officer, former LMPD detective Brett Hankison, with wanton endangerment in the case of Breonna Taylor’s murder.

University of Louisville President Neeli Bendapudi called the announcement “a reminder that we must recommit to pursuing racial justice and pushing for changes in law enforcement, our legal system, public policy and our educational curricula.”

Taylor was killed March 13 when three LMPD officers entered her home with a “no-knock” warrant. When the police came through the door, Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired a one round at police after asking who was there and receiving no response. The officers returned more than two dozen shots. Taylor’s death certificate says she was shot five times, however today, Cameron said she was actually struck six times.

Hankison is the only one of the three officers indicted. He is charged with three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment for firing into neighbor’s apartments, not for the death of Taylor.

A wanton endangerment charge is a class D felony, it comes with a penalty of one to five years.

“While I am pleased that the grand jury has acknowledged the unlawful actions of this police officer and that he will be tried for the unnecessary violence he caused that night,” Bendapudi told students, faculty and staff.  “I am disappointed that our justice system allows these atrocities to occur all too often with relatively little consequence.”

Bendapudi said the attorney general’s announcement does not change the fact that Taylor was killed in her home.

“It does not fix a system that allowed that to happen,” she said, citing a Harvard study which found that Black people are three times more likely on average than white people to be killed during a police interaction.

U of L’s Student Government Association Top 4 said they too are disappointed that Taylor will “not receive the justice she so deserved.”

“For many of our students, waiting for this announcement has been an incredibly emotional time,” SGA said in a statement on social media. “These results will be very difficult to handle, especially for our Black students.”

The university is offering resources for students, faculty and staff to heal during this time.

Faculty and staff may use the Employee Assistance Program to receive counseling services. While U of L’s Counseling Center is offering virtual and personal counseling sessions for students, which SGA said is free to students as part of the $50 insurance fee billed at the start of the year.

“As long as you have not voided this fee on ULink, your visit to the Counseling Center will be covered,” they said.

Some professors have already begun listening to what their student’s are feeling and have canceled their classes.

“I want to respond to the needs of my students,” Siobhan Smith-Jones said after cancelling her 4 o’clock Mass Communications course.

Smith-Jones said she would have continued with class had the students wanted to, pushing down her own feelings of hurt.

“Because I am hurt, I know many of my students are too,” she said. “They are also confused, disappointed and disgusted. They want to protest or protect themselves and their families.”

“I’m here to help, not hinder,” Smith-Jones said.

She also added that the ramifications of this decision will impact Louisville, and therefore U of L, for years to come.

“Our students will have a hand in making the changes needed to our socio-political systems,” she said. “They have a perspective that no one else has; this is their city.”

“So in that,” she said. “Canceling class is a small thing.”

File Photo // The Louisville Cardinal

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