WKYT - Harlan - Headlines

Johnson takes over as 26th Circuit Judge; responds to KEF criticism

By: Tanner Hesterberg Email
By: Tanner Hesterberg Email

HARLAN, Ky. (WYMT) - This week marks the first one in office for the new circuit judge in Harlan County.

Former Harlan County Commonwealth's Attorney Henry Johnson was appointed by Gov. Beshear to lead the 26th judicial circuit.

Johnson was sworn in Monday,

"I'm very pleased," Johnson said. "I'm looking forward to the challenge and I will be trying my utmost to do a good job."

Johnson has practiced in Harlan County since 1982 and served 21 years as Commonwealth's Attorney.

"I've had a lot of courtroom experience of all kinds...civil, criminal," Johnson said. "Mostly criminal. "Because for 21 years I was Commonwealth's Attorney, but during part of that time it was a part time position and I still went to court on civil matters."

Johnson's appointment drew criticism from The Kentucky Equality Federation.

KEF President Jordan Palmer said Johnson failed as Commonwealth's Attorney to effectively prosecute Anthony Ray Jenkins and David Jason Jenkins.

The cousins were convicted on federal kidnapping charges in connection to the 2011 beating of a gay man, but were acquitted of hate crime charges.

"He didn't do anything to prosecute either of them," Palmer said. "I had to lobby Washington D.C. and contact the deputy director of the civil rights division, the assistant United States attorney, to intervene and prosecute the case."

Johnson denied the allegation.

"The criticisms by Mr. Palmer have no basis in fact," Johnson said. "He has said the same things before and then apologized in writing and acknowledged that he had things wrong."

KEF Southeastern Kentucky Regional Director Will Taylor, a Harlan native, said, "I don't believe that the people of Harlan County will re-elect Mr. Johnson."

Johnson will fill the remainder of the term left vacant by Russell Alred, who was removed by the Judicial Conduct Commission for ethics violations.

That term ends in December 2014 and the position will be on the ballot next year.

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