LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department

Judge's political talk leads to deputy misstep


"You're kidding me. Well, they're dumb bastards anyway." (transcript obtained by Courier-Journal)

-- Attorney David Lambertus

Response by Mr. Lambertus to Judge Calvert's complaint that she did not receive the FOP's endorsement.


In open court, a judge facing re-election beckoned defense lawyers who support her to the bench to discuss her failure to win a key endorsement and its implications for her campaign.

Despite a judicial canon that says judges shall "refrain from inappropriate political activity," Jefferson District Judge Gina Kay Calvert showed the lawyers a handwritten note saying, "The FOP did not endorse me!!"

"Can you believe that?" Calvert asked attorney David Lambertus, according to the courtroom video, which recorded the conversations on March 27.

"Well, they're dumb bastards anyway," Lambertus responded.

Northwestern University law professor Steven Lubet, who teaches judicial ethics, said that under the Code of Judicial Conduct, which also requires judges to maintain the dignity of the office, "There should be no campaign discussion of any support from the bench."

Calvert, who is completing her first term, said in an interview that she shouldn't have discussed her campaign in court.

"In retrospect, I could have handled it differently," she said.

She said she was upset because she had learned that morning that she didn't get the endorsement of the eight Jefferson County Fraternal Order of Police lodges, despite her cooperation with police, which she said included signing search warrants at home when she was not on call.

She also said she thought the conversations wouldn't be recorded when she turned on a noise machine designed to keep spectators and jurors from hearing conversations at the bench.

Calvert's courtroom conversations with Lambertus and two other defense lawyers, Tim Denison and Jeff Skora, came to light after she asked Sheriff John Aubrey to reassign her courtroom deputy. Aubrey initiated an investigation of whether Deputy Sheriff William Ziegler took a copy of the note and showed it to prosecutors, including Calvert's opponent, Assistant County Attorney Susan Jones.

Aubrey suspended Ziegler for 20 days, which was reduced to 15 days last month by the Deputy Sheriff Merit Board, which found Ziegler had read and copied the contents of the note rather than removed it from the bench.

Ziegler intends to appeal the sanction to Jefferson Circuit Court, according to his lawyer, Thomas Clay, who said his client was concerned Calvert "might be campaigning from the bench improperly" and thought he had a duty to report it.

"I don't think he did anything wrong," Clay said.

Ziegler told investigators for the sheriff's department that he reported Calvert's conduct to Jones, who was in a nearby conference room, because he wanted to know whether it was illegal or unethical.

He said she told him she wasn't sure if it was illegal but that she thought it was unethical, according to the board's findings. He said when he was assured that a crime hadn't occurred, he dropped the matter.

Jones testified at a board hearing that Ziegler was angry about Calvert's conduct in court because he thought it might be inappropriate. She said two other prosecutors - Nader Shunnarah and Norma Miller - were in the conference room and the "consensus was that what the judge did was wrong."

"I would not do it," she testified. "I try to avoid campaigning in court."

She declined to be interviewed, said Jessie Halladay, a spokeswoman for the county attorney's office.

The merit board rejected Ziegler's claims that he was acting as a whistleblower, noting he could have brought his concerns to supervisors in the sheriff's office or to the Judicial Conduct Commission, rather than to Jones, a courthouse friend who is Calvert's opponent.

Ziegler, who had no prior disciplinary infractions in 27 years of service, was found to have violated department rules by not being completely truthful and for "making known to a third party information he received in the court of his official duties ... in a way which placed him and the sheriff's office in a partisan position with regard to a political race."

Clay said Ziegler has been reassigned from Calvert's courtroom.

Calvert said she discussed the endorsement with the three lawyers because she considered them political supporters and advisers and because "I was having a pretty rough emotional time."

She said she should have contacted them outside court, after the close of the business day.

The courtroom video shows that Lambertus appeared on a routine motion to dismiss a case, then Calvert asked to talk to him about a "a different matter." She told him she was furious that police had decided to support her opponent despite her support for them.

"You know I sign search warrants for them when I'm not on call because I only live four miles away," she told him. "They come into court at any time whether I am on call or not. Can you believe this shit?"

"Don't worry, you'll win in a landslide," Lambertus assured her. "If you ask every cop who did they endorse, they have no idea."

When Denison asked her later what she was going to do in response to the endorsement, she said, "I'm obviously not going to punish the officers."

Lambertus and Denison did not respond to requests for comment; Skora said he "likes and respects" Calvert but declined to comment on the propriety of a judge discussing her campaign in court.

According to the board's findings, Calvert's suspicions of Ziegler arose when she returned on March 27 and found her note about the endorsement in a different place on the bench than where she had left it.

She reviewed a video and reported to the sheriff's office that it appeared to show Ziegler reaching across the bench during a recess and taking the note.

The board concluded in its 27-page finding of facts that Ziegler stood in front of the bench, looked across it, picked up the note and read it, but didn't take it.

The board found that Calvert's conversations on the bench were not unlawful.

"Judge Calvert was distressed about her failure to receive the endorsement and sought out certain defense attorneys to discuss the matter," the report says.

Calvert was endorsed by Citizens for Better Judges while Jones, one of nine prosecutors running for district and circuit court, got the nod from the FOP, which also endorsed three other assistant county attorneys.

Mike Hettich, chairman of the FOP's criminal justice committee, said the endorsements were made by secret ballot by representatives of the Louisville Metro Police and seven other police lodges in Jefferson County.

Here is a transcript of part of a conversation between Judge Gina Kay Calvert and defense attorney David Lambert on March , after Calvert showed him a note saying she hadn't been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police.

Lambertus: "You're kidding me. Well, they're dumb bastards anyway."

Judge: "Can you believe that? "They all have my cell phones. You know I sign search warrants for them when I am not on call because I only live four miles away. They come into my court at any time whether I am on call or not. Can you believe that shit?"

Lambertus: "They don't think, really. That's just ridiculous...Don't worry: You win in a landslide. I guarantee you, if you ask every cop who did you endorse, they have no idea...They are a gnat on the windshield."