Judge alleges slander in road-rage case
Andrew Wolfson, The Courier-JournalPublished 12:38 p.m. ET June 26, 2014 | Updated 5:00 p.m. ET June 26, 2014
Jefferson District Court Judge Sean Delahanty denounces the county attorney’s office for “slandering” him by saying falsely he was not the duty judge when he set a low bond for an accused murder suspect who sells hotdogs near the courthouse.
In an extraordinary courtroom spectacle, one Jefferson District Court judge appeared before another Thursday and charged that he’d been slandered by the county attorney’s office, which he said falsely implied he was unethical and a “crook.”
His voice shaking with anger, Judge Sean Delahanty said a prosecutor had erroneously said he was not the court’s on-call judge Saturday when he set a $10,000 bond for a downtown hot dog vendor charged with killing a man in an apparent road-rage incident that day.
“It was at the least irreponsible, if not slanderous,” Delahanty told Judge Eric Haner.
Haner increased the bond to $50,000 Wednesday on a motion filed by the county attorney’s office, which wrongly asserted that Delahanty “was not the on call judge nor was he the backup for the on-call judge.”
Susan Ely, the head of the county attorney’s criminal division, apologized in court for what she said was an inadvertent error and said her office would strike that sentence from the motion.
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But Delahanty, with other judges and lawyers looking on in a crowded courtroom, said the apology didn’t “cut it.”
“There are people out there on the street who think I am some kind of crook involved in unethical behavior,” he said.
The confrontation appeared to escalate the bad blood between County Attorney Mike O’Connell and Jefferson District Court judges, who have clashed for more than two years over various issues.
O’Connell told Haner that he had never seen a judge appear before another judge; Delahanty acknowledged it was unusual but added, “It’s not very usual for a prosecutor to come into court and say things that are untrue.”
Haner said from the bench that the county attorney’s misreprentation had nothing to do with his decision to raise the bond of Donald Hayes, 67, who is charged in the death of Danny Wilson.
One man is dead after a road rage incident in the Camp Taylor area. Jere Downs, The Courier-Journal
But Haner agreed to hold another bond hearing, which he set for 3 p.m. Thursday.
Assistant County Attorney Becky Schroering had requested the increase, saying the bond set by Delahanty didn’t reflect the seriousness of the crime.
In a motion and in court, Schroering asserted that Delahanty had inserted himself in the case even though he wasn’t the duty officer assigned to set bonds last weekend. Ely said that was her mistake because she hadn’t printed out an updated schedule.
Delahanty said he set about 100 bonds on Saturday, including Hayes’.
In an interview later, O’Connell offered no apologies.
“Let’s not lose focus on the fact that a judge set a $10,000 bond on a murder case,” he told reporters outside the courtroom.
Asked if he was worried that the error would exacerbate tensions between his office and the bench, O’Connell said, “We are all big boys and big girls down here.”
Police found Wilson bloodied behind the wheel of a car about 11:30 a.m. Saturday in the 4200 block of Poplar Level Road. He was taken to University of Louisville Hospital, where he died. A police spokeswoman said it was an apparent road-rage incident.
Hayes was charged in the murder later that day.
The commonwealth’s attorney office said that it may ask for a special prosecutor because Hayes, who has sold hot dogs near the courthouse for 23 years, is so well-known and popular.
Reporter Andrew Wolfson can be reached at (502) 582-7189