Supreme Court: Judge in Crystal Rogers case gets chance to decide whether to recuse himself

The chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled that the judge presiding over the Crystal Rogers murder case should be given a chance to decide whether to recuse himself before the state’s highest court considers a request to remove him.

Attorneys for defendant Brooks Houck filed an affidavit earlier this week seeking to have Nelson Circuit Court Judge Charles Simms III disqualified on the basis that the judge allegedly is biased against Houck.

Kentucky Chief Justice Laurance VanMeter issued an order Wednesday sending the request back to Nelson Circuit Court, saying Simms should have been given an opportunity to choose whether to recuse himself before the matter was sent to the Supreme Court.

If Simms decides to recuse himself, a substitute judge would be appointed. If he does not recuse himself, VanMeter said he will then consider whether to disqualify the judge. Simms would have an opportunity to “include in the record whatever countervailing facts or considerations” he thinks are pertinent, according to the order.

Houck, 42, of Bardstown, was indicted in September on charges of murder and tampering with physical evidence in the death of Rogers, his former girlfriend, who was last seen in July 2015. He has pleaded not guilty.

Houck’s attorneys, Brian Butler and Michael Denbow, argue in an affidavit filed Tuesday that Simms “has demonstrated, at least to an outward reasonable observer, an appearance of lack of impartiality and antagonism towards Mr. Houck.”

As evidence, they point to Houck’s $10 million bond, which they say is “grossly excessive,” as well as a comment Simms wrote in a 2017 custody case to which Houck was not a party.

In that case, Simms ruled on whether Houck could have contact with his girlfriend’s child, and he wrote that he was “simply astonished that (the woman) would want a relationship with a man who is the prime suspect in the disappearance and presumed death of his previous girlfriend.”

In deciding not to reduce Houck’s bond, Simms wrote in an order that he “simply wants both sides to receive a fair and impartial trial.”

Though Houck had been deemed a low flight risk by Nelson County Pretrial Services, Simms said he was also concerned about the safety of potential witnesses and wanted to “better assure the integrity of this proceeding.”

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