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Family court judge suspended without pay for 7 days

Posted September 12

— A Kentucky judge was suspended without pay for seven days Monday for violating judicial rules in a child custody case by granting temporary custody to the father, who then went to Mississippi with the youngster, without a hearing.

Kathy W. Stein, a family court judge in Fayette County, was disciplined for violating multiple ethics standards, the state's Judicial Conduct Commission said. Stein cooperated with the investigation, waived formal proceedings and agreed to the suspension order, it said.

Based on its preliminary investigation, the commission said Stein was approached late last year by an attorney representing the father in the custody case. The attorney requested an order granting the father immediate, temporary custody of the child, it said.

Stein granted the motion without conducting a hearing or giving the mother an opportunity to respond, the commission said.

Stein then participated in a telephone conference in which she told a school administrator that the child's father was allowed to pick up the youngster that day, it said. Stein also told the school official that the child's mother did not need to be informed of the order, it said.

"Immediately following the order, the child's father took the child from school under the guise of taking the child to a counseling session," the commission's order said. "Instead, the father absconded with the child to Mississippi, and remained there until the (Kentucky) Court of Appeals granted intermediate relief and ordered the child be returned to Kentucky."

Stein said Monday she "jumped the gun" by not giving the mother an opportunity to be heard, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. She told the newspaper she regretted her handling of the matter but said it was presented to her as an emergency situation.

The appellate court, in its review, said the mother had accused the father of essentially abandoning the child, while the father indicated he tried to reconcile with the youngster but his attempts had been thwarted. The father feared that the mother, by seeking a passport for the child, might leave the country with the child, prompting him to seek the order for temporary custody.

The disciplinary commission said Monday that Stein violated judicial canons by "failing to maintain high standards of conduct," failing to promote judicial integrity and failing "to accord every person who has a legal interest in a proceeding the right to be heard."

She also violated a rule requiring judges to dispose of matters efficiently and fairly, it said.

Stein was suspended without pay for seven straight days beginning Sept. 28, the commission said.

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