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Court document gives more details in allegations against commonwealth’s attorney

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Posted at 7:13 PM, May 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-19 19:13:30-04

(LEX 18) — A recently-filed court document has given more details on alleged ethical concerns surrounding a central Kentucky commonwealth’s attorney.

Scrutiny of commonwealth’s attorney Sharon Muse Johnson began with a letter by former Circuit Court Judge Brian Privett to the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office. In it, Privett requested an investigation into allegations that Muse Johnson had allowed too many grand jurors to be present for a number of indictment hearings since she took office, and accused her of allowing a reality television show pilot to be filmed in her office.

At the time, Muse Johnson said that “all allegations of illegal and/ or unethical conduct contained in the letter are either blatantly false or grossly misleading.”

Muse Johnson serves Scott, Woodford and Bourbon counties, where the grand jury issues have now called into question a number of criminal cases. Some indictments are expected to be dismissed, and Muse Johnson has said her office would re-present each case for indictment.

Now, a letter that was included as an exhibit to support a motion in a Bourbon County criminal case is showing that one of Muse Johnson’s former assistant commonwealth’s attorneys also had ethical concerns.

Muse Johnson said in a statement Thursday that the allegations in the more recent letter mirror those in Privett’s letter, and said that the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office had completed an investigation of the claims and ended up “clearing” her.

The three-page letter was written in December by Kate Bennett, who worked in Muse Johnson’s office for two years as the first assistant commonwealth’s attorney. In the letter, which was sent to the Kentucky Bar Association’s Ethics Hotline, detailed some of Bennett's concerns about alleged goings-on in the office.

One of the allegations surrounded the reported filming of the television pilot in the office. Bennett wrote that while filming, Muse Johnson staged a discussion about a criminal case pending grand jury presentation that was “still in the active stages of investigations.”

Bennett also wrote that when she raised concerns about being recorded for the alleged pilot, Muse Johnson told her that “only the production companies that are vying for the show will see it.”

The letter also alleges that Muse Johnson would often record meetings with witnesses in cases being prepared for trial and instructed her employees to do the same. Bennett writes that the recordings included potential evidence and were not turned over to defense counsel.

Muse Johnson’s full statement Thursday in response to the allegations in the letter is as follows:

“The Kentucky Attorney General's Office concluded its investigation on May 6 clearing Sharon Muse Johnson of the allegations and closing their file. The Attorney General's Office has also conducted its investigation into the grand jury matter and to date has left all cases to Ms. Muse Johnson for further proceedings. Ms. Bennett's allegations are a result of her misunderstanding of law and fact, and mirror previous claims by former Judge Privett that have now been reviewed and closed by the Attorney General’s Office.  Ms. Muse Johnson will continue to work for the community and not be distracted by politically motivated and false allegations.” 

Bennett released the following statement about her letter to the Kentucky Bar Association’s ethical hotline:

“SCR 3.130 (8.3) mandates attorneys to report professional and unethical misconduct of other attorneys. As a career prosecutor, I have a responsibility to follow the law and report such conduct. I stand by every word of my letter.”