This newspaper stated last month that a Franklin County judge who voiced his political opinions by liking social media posts related to certain state candidates should be removed from a case involving two of the candidates.
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd was set to preside over a case involving the “teacher sickout” case between Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration and a legal challenge brought by Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear.
When it surfaced that Shepherd had “liked” a Facebook post by a Democratic state representative that included an endorsement of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beshear, we editorialized that Shepherd couldn’t be partial and needed to recuse himself from the case. Bevin’s attorneys had asked that Shepherd remove himself from the case, but Shepherd declined, saying he had also liked several Facebook posts that promoted Republican causes, including the reelection of Bevin.
That’s fine if Shepherd liked posts related to the Bevin and Beshear camps, but when he had an upcoming case involving the two men, he should have known better than, as a judge, to even get involved in political matters. Judges typically are supposed to remain neutral and non-vocal in public about their political leanings.
Although Shepherd tried to stay on the case, he was removed from it last week by Kentucky Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. Minton transferred the case to Judge Thomas Wingate, the other circuit judge in Franklin County.
Minton summarized the situation very well: “This case should serve as a cautionary tale to all Kentucky judges who use social media. As the Judicial Ethics Commission wisely admonished in its 2010 opinion, these services are ‘fraught with peril’ for judges and should be used with extreme caution. While judges are not ethically prohibited from using social media, their use is subject to the Code of Judicial Conduct in the same manner as other extrajudicial activities.”
Minton made the right call here and we are very proud of him for doing so. Based on Shepherd’s likes on social media, there is no way to have known if he could’ve been impartial in the sickout case.
Now, through Minton’s order of Sheherd’s removal from the case, there should be no question of impartiality in this case with another judge.