OUR VIEW: Legal system failed in shooting case | Opinion

Cherok Douglass is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, but if he’s convicted in the killings of two people along with the kidnapping of another person, those in charge of our legal system owe the public an explanation.

Douglass is in custody after being shot multiple times by police. He’s accused of shooting and killing his wife and a bystander at a New Albany gas station on April 4. Douglass, according to police, then fled the scene, held a woman hostage after kidnapping her, which led to her being injured, and aggressively drove a vehicle at officers.

Douglass was due in court in Clark County on April 5 to answer to an alleged probation violation on a drug charge. That hearing had been delayed multiple times after prosecutors sought to have Douglass jailed on the violation. The judge who declined that request, Brad Jacobs, represented Douglass on the initial charge when he was a defense attorney.

Jacobs had also represented Douglass on criminal cases in Floyd County. According to court records, he was asked to send the Clark County case to another court, but that didn’t happen, and it’s unclear why.

The state’s Code of Judicial Conduct clearly states that a judge shall disqualify himself from a proceeding if he “served as a lawyer in the matter in controversy,” which clearly was the case for Jacobs.

It’s hard to understand why someone with such a lengthy criminal record, one that includes felony convictions or plea deals for armed robbery, domestic battery and cocaine possession, would be allowed to stay on the streets for almost a year after an alleged violation. It’s even more difficult to comprehend why a judge who had represented the defendant previously wouldn’t immediately step down from the case. This situation should be reviewed by the Indiana Supreme Court’s Qualifications Commission. Jacobs should also disqualify himself from any future proceedings involving Douglass.

Jails are overcrowded and courts are often overrun with cases. This creates a backlog that can delay hearings. But judges and prosecutors must prioritize proceedings involving defendants with long criminal records, especially when those convictions involve violent crimes.

For the public to have faith in its justice system, that system must be transparent, fair and above reproach. When top legal officials fail to follow the rules, the public’s confidence in the system rightfully erodes.

Defendants have legal rights and deserve a fair trial. Treatment and rehabilitation of those who have been convicted of crimes is also important. But our legal system shouldn’t ignore red flags. The public must be protected from violent criminals. This is a clear case where our system failed.

News and Tribune Editorial Board

— News and Tribune Editorial Board