Jefferson Circuit Judge Olu Stevens will speak at 11 a.m. Thursday, February 2 at Bradford Hall Auditorium as part of Kentucky State University’s Black History Month Convocation. During this month, the University will feature notable speakers that will inspire and motivate students and faculty.
Stevens is the circuit judge for the 30th Judicial Circuit, 6th Division in Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky. He has received international attention due to a series of incidents that took place in his courtroom in 2015 and early 2016.
In February 2015, Stevens addressed a victim impact statement written by the parent of a 4-year old white child. The statement expressed a fear of all black men and stated they avoid black people, including their black friends because of the defendant, who was black. Stevens condemned the statements. After a Louisville Courier-Journal article was published in April 2015, Stevens was the subject of death threats by various hate groups across the country via social media and other means.
In October 2015, Stevens granted a defendant’s motion to dismiss a jury panel for lack of racial diversity. This followed his dismissal of a panel of 40 whites and only one black earlier in the year. In that case, the defendant, who was black, was acquitted. After the acquittal, the prosecutor, who is white, challenged Stevens’ decision to dismiss the jury panel. His action drew the Stevens’ exception and he criticized the prosecutor’s actions orally and in a series of written comments.
The case before the Supreme Court has drawn the attention of the national chapters of the NAACP and the NBA, who joined to file an amicus brief in support of Stevens’ ruling in the case.
In January 2016, Stevens held a white defendant in contempt of court and sentenced him to a term in jail for calling Stevens a racial epithet in open court. He condemned the defendant’s language and held him in contempt of court. The video of the proceeding was viewed online over 3½ million times in 24 hours.
Stevens has presided over more than 130 complex civil and felony criminal jury trials over the last 6½ years, more than any other Circuit judge in the Commonwealth. Based on his experience as a trial judge, Stevens has authored numerous written publications including an article concerning the practical implications of Batson v. Kentucky, the landmark case outlawing racial discrimination in jury selection and his 100 Practice Points for Trial Lawyers.
Stevens is working on a book detailing his perspectives on life and his experiences as a black trial judge in Louisville, Kentucky.
Stevens is a native of Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of Morehouse College and George Washington University Law School. He practiced law for 14 years and was a partner in one of Kentucky’s largest law firms before he was appointed to the circuit bench in 2009.