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Contempt Order Upheld Against Kentucky DOC Commissioner

by Mark Wilson

On August 15, 2008, the Kentucky Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a lower court order holding former Dept. of Corrections Commissioner John Rees in contempt of court.

Fifteen-year-old Daniel Ottman pleaded guilty to first-degree assault following a 2004 shooting incident, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. When he turned eighteen he was resentenced under KRS 640.030.

On June 6, 2007, the circuit court granted Ottman’s motion for shock probation. The court withdrew its order the next day, however, expressing concern that Ottman was a violent offender under KRS 439.3401 and therefore ineligible for probation or shock probation. Commissioner Rees argued that state law prohibited Ottman’s release on shock probation, but on June 19, 2007 the court reinstated its order, finding that youthful offenders were eligible for probation under KRS 640.030(2)(a).

Rees wrote to the court two days later, again asserting that Kentucky law barred Ottman’s release on shock probation and stating “that he would not release Ottman despite the trial court’s order....”

On June 25, 2007, the circuit court ordered Ottman’s release from custody. It then held a contempt hearing and found Rees in contempt of court for refusing to obey its June 19, 2007 shock probation order. Rees was fined $500 and ordered to pay Ottman’s attorney’s fees. Rees appealed.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals rejected Rees’ argument that the circuit court’s order was void. While Kentucky law bars adults convicted of violent offenses from being placed on shock probation, the appellate court held that Ottman was eligible for probation and shock probation pursuant to KRS 640.030, which “was intended to create an exception for youthful offenders to the general sentencing guidelines.”

Thus, the lower court had acted within its jurisdiction and “Rees was properly held in contempt for his intentional and willful refusal to obey the court’s order.” See: Rees v. Ottman, Kentucky Court of Appeals, Case No. 2007-CA-001671-MR, 2008 WL 3551151.

Rees, who was formerly employed with Corrections Corp. of America, the nation’s largest private prison firm, retired from his position with the Kentucky DOC on January 31, 2008. He now works as a corrections consultant, and presumably his clients are unaware that he has been held in contempt of court.

Additional source: Courier-Journal

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Related legal case

Rees v. Ottman