LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – One of Jefferson County’s most-well known and outspoken judges over the past two decades has died, according to his family.
Former District Court Judge Sean Delahanty, who served on the bench for 20 years until he lost his seat in the 2018 election, passed away on Friday. hey what 71
Delahanty, who comes from a long family of judges and lawyers, could be acerbic, sarcastic, bombastic and thoughtful in the same breath, forsaking a lot of the stiff formality typical in courtrooms.
“You never had to guess what Judge Delahanty was thinking,” said former district judge David Bowles, who had an office next to Delahanty for years.
Attorney Skip Daleure, who was in a golf league with Delahanty, said he “could deliver a funny line with a straight face as good as anyone. Last thing you wanted was to be in court and give a lame excuse if you did something wrong.
“He would raise that eyebrow up and look over his glasses and say, ‘do you think I’m stupid?’ He was a character. He didn’t have much patience for stupidity.”
Daleure said Delahanty knew everything going on in the courthouse, and often had his hands involved in whatever it was.
“Sean was a people’s judge. He had a sign on a door that said ‘We the People’ and that was him,” Bowles said in an interview. “He was a blue-collar judge who cared about working people, people who were on the fringe of society and often overlooked.”
Delahanty was known as a vocal advocate for easing jail overcrowding by lowering bonds and releasing more defendants who believed he didn’t pose a threat.
He had a years-long battle with Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell over several issues, including the legality of a traffic court program launched by O’Connell.
“He was very dedicated to people in the community he thought were marginalized,” said Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine, who served with Delahanty on a jail policy review committee. “The entire Delahanty family has been very active in social justice and criminal justice in Jefferson County.”
Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Julie Kaelin said Delahanty worked to bring about change in the system, even though it often made him the subject of contention.
“He didn’t make rulings based on what he thought would be popular or easiest; instead he did what he thought was just,” she said. “He wasn’t shy about putting the flaws of the system on display in an effort to make it better.”
When he lost his re-election bid in 2018, Delahanty said he believed he “served honorably” and “touched a lot of lives.”
“I think a lot of people benefited,” he said at the time. He also worked as an attorney for nearly two decades.
Mayor Craig Greenberg said in a statement that Delahanty’s “service to our community cannot be overstated and his passing is a sad day for Louisville.”
Greenberg said that Delahanty served “with integrity, patience, and impeccable legal knowledge. Rachel and I offer our most sincere condolences to his family and loved ones.”
Outside of court, friends said Delahanty was an avid University of Louisville and Louisville City FC fan who enjoyed golf, concerts and traveling with his wife.
He spent hours working and clearing brush from a cemetery that had been overlooked in the west end, Bowles said.
“At his core, he had a heart of gold,” Bowles added.
Delahanty was also known for his role in a controversial court TV realty show called “Deadbeat,” about parents who were behind on child support.
“I’m going to wear you down,” Delahanty told one parent in the show in 2014. “I’m going to wear you down with jail.”
Former Jefferson District Court Judge David Holton noted that Delahanty would tell defendants who he had seen repeatedly in his courtroom that “you need a new career, you’re not a good criminal.”
Delahanty graduated from DeSales High School, the University of Louisville in 1974 and then Brandeis School of Law in 1980. He was married and had two adult children.
Holton noted the Delahanty name is well known as five members of the family were judges.
“He was a hard worker, common sense guy,” Holton said. “When you knew talked to Sean, you what to expect. Nobody worked harder at the courthouse.”
This story may be updated.
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