AG finds no criminal wrongdoing by Central Kentucky prosecutor after alleged misconduct

·5 min read
Kentucky Commonwealth's Attorneys' Association

The Kentucky Attorney General’s office found “insufficient evidence” of criminal conduct after investigating a Central Kentucky prosecutor who’d been accused of ethical and potential legal violations by others in the criminal justice system.

In December 2021, the Department of Criminal Investigations received a letter from former Scott County Judge Brian Privett who alleged that Sharon Muse Johnson, a state prosecutor who handles cases in Scott, Bourbon and Woodford counties, had committed potential ethical and legal violations. Privett asked for the state to investigate.

But the AG’s office found no criminal wrongdoing and said their office had no jurisdiction over allegations of unprofessional or unethical conduct, according to a letter sent to Privett from the Attorney General’s office notifying him that the investigation had concluded. The letter was obtained by the Herald-Leader through an open records request.

“After investigating the matter, the Department concludes that there is insufficient evidence of criminal conduct. The Department will close its file on this matter and take no further action. To the extent, however, that you have alleged that Ms. Johnson has engaged in unprofessional or unethical conduct, this Office does not have jurisdiction over such matters,” the attorney general’s response read.

Privett said in his letter to the AG’s office that Muse Johnson and her husband, Rob Johnson, were engaged in several unethical activities.

According to Privett, Johnson is a part-time assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Muse Johnson’s office, and he is paid “well in excess” of what people in that position are normally paid. He stated Johnson “may be the highest paid employee” in Muse Johnson’s office.

Muse Johnson’s attorney told the Herald-Leader that Johnson was paid $55,000, had significant experience and took on a large caseload.

Privett also took issue with Johnson running for a 14th Circuit Court judgeship which Privett previously held, and said that having a judge and prosecutor in the same circuit who were married would be an ethical issue.

In addition, Privett alleged that Muse Johnson planned to film a reality TV show in which she worked on active cases which were being investigated and presented to a grand jury or in court, according to his letter.

He alleged that a pilot episode of the show was filmed in 2021 and it featured law enforcement discussion about pending cases. It also alleged that Muse Johnson discussed other attorneys and spoke negatively of judges during the filming of this episode.

“My concern of the filming of this tv show is that Ms. Muse-Johnson is using (Prosecutors Advisory Council)-funded employees, office space, equipment, as well as Georgetown Police Department facilities for her own financial benefit,” he wrote in the letter. “The pilot was already filmed using these resources, which looks to me to be an obvious act of official misconduct.”

Muse Johnson’s attorney replied and said there is not a reality show and refuted his claims and said they were “blatantly false or grossly misleading.”

“There is no reality show,” said Kenyon Meyer, Muse Johnson’s attorney. Meyer said Muse Johnson was “interviewed by a production company who wanted her to consider developing some type of concept. She never has received any compensation, and no show was ever developed.”

Also in his letter, the former judge alleged that Muse Johnson “recklessly handles” grand jury presentations and actively campaigns for her husband during these sessions.

While the Attorney General’s office found no criminal wrongdoing in the matters alleged by Privett, the office did investigate 163 indictments in which it is alleged that Muse Johnson had more than the 12 necessary grand jurors present to indict defendants, according to a spokesperson.

The report of irregularities in the grand jury selection process came from Judge Jeremy Mattox, chief judge of the 14th Judicial Circuit on Feb. 14, 2022.

Because Kentucky Law requires only nine votes to indict, having more than 12 grand jury members would increase the odds of securing an indictment.

Of these 163 cases, 104 took place in Scott County; 38 in Bourbon County; and 21 in Woodford County, according to the Attorney General’s office. The AG’s office has recommended that many indictments be dismissed because there were likely too many grand jurors on the case, according to the Louisville Courier Journal.

“Our investigators have concluded most of the investigations into the more than 160 cases that we’ve been asked to review, and a few remain ongoing. Our Special Prosecutions Unit is now working to review the findings and prepare reports for each of these cases, on a case by case basis,” said Elizabeth Kuhn, a spokesperson for Attorney General Daniel Cameron.

In a case report obtained by the Herald-Leader, the Attorney General’s office said it “strongly recommends” dismissing the indictment for a Woodford County defendant accused of failing to comply with the sex offender registry and sex offender restrictions. The Attorney General’s office recommended leaving it up to the prosecutor to seek another indictment.

The case is still pending in Woodford Circuit Court and a status hearing is scheduled for June 1.

During the department’s inquiry, Muse Johnson explained that sworn grand jurors and grand juror alternates remained in the room during the presentation and deliberations.

“There was never any intent to deprive a defendant of their rights or to create any procedural error,” Muse Johnson said in an exhibit to the attorney general.

“In fact, it was meant to help protect the grand jury process as we have one day a month, on occasion two in Scott County, to do grand jury returns, we have serious challenges with scheduling, and have had time when non-alternate grand jurors have to step out due to knowing a defendant or leave for emergencies.”

Muse Johnson also said there hadn’t been any mention of concern from judges over having more than 12 people present during the past three years.

“There was not an issue for me as I was confident that not more than twelve grand jurors had voted,” she said.

Judge alleges misconduct in Ky. prosecutor’s office, cites reality show, husband’s role