Nelson County Court judge will not be removed from murder of Crystal Rogers trial

Judge Charles Simms held a hearing for Brooks Houck who is being charged in connection with Crystal Rogers disappearance at Nelson County Circuit Court. 
Oct 5, 2023
Judge Charles Simms held a hearing for Brooks Houck who is being charged in connection with Crystal Rogers disappearance at Nelson County Circuit Court. Oct 5, 2023

Nelson Circuit Court Judge Charles Simms III will not be removed from presiding over Brooks Houck's criminal trial, with the Supreme Court of Kentucky on Monday denying a defense motion for a disqualification.

While defense attorneys say Simms has demonstrated bias against Houck, Chief Justice Laurance B. VanMeter disagrees, writing "the Defendant has failed to demonstrate any disqualifying circumstance" in the court order.

Houck faces charges of murder and tampering with physical evidence related to the 2015 disappearance of his former girlfriend, Crystal Rogers.

Rogers, a mother of five who had her youngest child with Houck, has never been found but is presumed dead.

Why was the judge in the Crystal Rogers case asked to step down?

In their request, defense attorneys Brian Butler and Michael Denbow include remarks made by Simms six years ago during a custody dispute hearing involving Houck's longtime partner, Crystal Maupin.

Simms presided over the custody dispute in 2017 and referenced Houck in a written order: "this Court is simply astonished that (Maupin) would want a relationship with a man (Brooks Houck) who is the prime suspect in the disappearance and presumed death of his previous girlfriend."

In a court order denying the request for his recusal, Simms said his ruling in that custody dispute was ultimately favorable to Houck because it allowed him to have contact with Maupin's child over the objection of the child's father.

Simms wrote he used the word "astonished" because "there was alarming evidence that Maupin's relationship with Brooks could negatively impact the child."

Because Houck was identified as a suspect by law enforcement in Rogers' disappearance early in the investigation, Maupin's relationship with him caused her to lose employment and be under considerable stress due to the level of harassment in the community, according to court documents.

"In a nutshell, this judge simply wanted Maupin to contemplate how potential criminal charges could impact her and her child," Simms wrote.

How have attorneys claimed Judge Simms is biased in the Brooks Houck trial?

Houck's defense said Simms demonstrated a bias during Houck's arraignment by asking a probing question of the prosecution that would justify keeping his bond at $10 million.

Simms said Houck's substantial wealth and resources as well as "the gravity of the murder charge" led him to keep the bond at $10 million. Simms said his concern over witness safety was also justified due to the prosecution's claim that members of Houck's family have interfered with past court proceedings and criminal investigations related to Rogers' disappearance.

Houck's defense appealed Simms' decision to keep his multimillion bond amount, but the Kentucky Court of Appeals subsequently upheld the judge's order.

In a statement, Attorney General Daniel Cameron's office agreed with the state appellate court's ruling, "given the need to protect potential witnesses and to secure a fair trial."

“The Attorney General’s Office will continue to work alongside Special Prosecutor Shane Young to ensure justice for Crystal Rogers and her family,” Cameron's office added.

More: Three takeaways from Brooks Houck arraignment in Crystal Rogers case

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky Supreme Court denies Brooks Houck's motion to remove judge