Kentucky Court of Justice
Court of Appeals Chief Judge Sara Combs receives honorary degree from Union College, delivers University of Louisville School of Law commencement address
Union College presented Kentucky Court of Appeals Chief Judge Sara Walter Combs with an honorary doctor of laws degree May 5 in Barbourville. Judge Combs, who was on hand to deliver the commencement address to the 128th graduating class, was recognized by Union College for her "distinguished judicial record and pioneer legacy as the first woman on the Kentucky Supreme Court." The honorary degree also noted Judge Combs' distinguished legal career, which includes the 1985 landmark case that led to sweeping reforms through passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990.
Union College also honored Judge Combs and her late husband, former Kentucky Gov. Bert T. Combs, by announcing the establishment of the Sara W. and Bert T. Combs Leadership Grant. The grant honors their devotion to Kentucky, love of education and civic leadership. It will benefit students who show promise as future civic leaders in Kentucky.
Judge Combs also addressed the 2007 graduating class of the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law on May 12. She earned her law degree from U of L in 1979, where she ranked second in her class and was later honored with a Distinguished Alumni Award. She also earned an undergraduate degree in French from U of L, where she graduated as valedictorian in 1970. She completed a master’s degree in French from U of L as well and was recognized as a Woodrow Wilson Designate. Judge Combs was also valedictorian at Sacred Heart Academy in Louisville.
Judge Combs not only made history as the first woman on the Supreme Court of Kentucky, but also as the first woman from Eastern Kentucky to serve as chief judge of the Kentucky Court of Appeals. Judge Combs was first appointed to the Court of Appeals in 1994 to fill a vacancy. She was elected to the court in 1995 and re-elected in 2000.
Judge Combs has taught at the high school and university levels in addition to gaining broad experience in the practice of law. She began her legal career as an associate with Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs in Louisville before serving as corporate counsel to an advertising company. She also practiced law with her late husband, Gov. Combs, established a solo practice in Stanton, and became a regional affiliate with the Louisville law firm of Mapother & Mapother.
She is involved with numerous professional, educational and civic organizations. She is a member of the Kentucky Bar Association, the Louisville Bar Association and the University Press of Kentucky. She also serves on the boards of Pikeville College, Lees College and the Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival. She previously served for seven years on the Kentucky Appalachian Commission.
Fourteen judges, two elected from each of the seven appellate districts, serve for eight-year terms on the Kentucky Court of Appeals. With a few exceptions, most cases appealed from Circuit Court go to the Court of Appeals. The case is reviewed, not retried, at the appeals level, with attorneys presenting the legal issues to the court for a decision. When the Court of Appeals publishes its rulings on cases, those rulings become the governing case law for all similar cases in the trial courts of Kentucky.