A Small Thing
On May 12, 2014, Judge Cathy Prewitt, a district judge in southern Kentucky, set a bond for one Stephen Hinkle. The bond was set at $25,000. It was a minor act of judicial discretion. She does this all this time.
Later that day, however, Judge Cathy Prewitt learned that Alma Ruth Hinkle was at the courthouse to pay the bond. Judge Prewitt notified the clerk’s office that the bond was being raised to $50,000. Just like that. No notice. No hearing. No changed circumstances. No opportunity to be heard. Just a small thing, making sure Stephen Hinkle did not get out on pretrial release.
It gets worse. Upon hearing that the bond had been changed, Alma Hinkle called the judge “a bitch.” Alma Hinkle was ordered to go to the arraignment docket that afternoon. Without appointing counsel, or without advising her of her right to remain silent, Judge Prewitt asked Ms. Hinkle whether she had called her a “bitch” or not, and admirably Alma Hinkle admitted that she had. Judge Prewitt proceeded to hold Alma Hinkle in contempt and ordered her to spend 24 hours in jail. Again, no hearing, no notice, no counsel. 24 hours. Just a small amount of time for such egregious conduct as muttering a profanity over an obvious arbitrary act by a judicial officer.
On the 10th of July, the Judicial Conduct Commission of Kentucky suspended Judge Cathy Prewitt from service for seven days. Notably, attorney John Prather represented Judge Cathy Prewitt in the proceedings before the Judicial Conduct Commission. The Commission found that the judge had failed to maintain high standards of conduct, and had failed to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary. It faulted the judge for raising the bond without a hearing and without providing Stephen Hinkle the right to be heard with a lawyer, and for holding Ms. Hinkle in contempt of court without providing her notice, an opportunity to have an attorney, and an opportunity to have a hearing before a neutral fact finder.
This small incident is a witness to the ordinary injustices occurring in Kentucky and across the nation every day. A judge who viewed bond as a means for keeping a presumed innocent poor person in jail. A judge who raised bond without providing basic due process. A judge who gave no one the fundamental rights to counsel and to be heard. A clerk who reported back to the judge what a distraught mother had said. A judge who held the mother in contempt without notice, without an attorney, without a hearing, and required her to spend a day in jail. Two Hinkles in jail, at the whim of a judge.
Just a small thing, in a small place in Kentucky. We don’t know how this came to the attention of the Judicial Conduct Commission. There is no mention of a lawyer for Stephen or Alma Hinkle. But whoever reported Judge Cathy Prewitt took a stand against injustice. A very big thing.