FRANKFORT, Ky., Nov. 9, 2004 ¾ The Supreme Court of Kentucky has adopted a new rule to promote the prompt review and disposition of criminal cases, announced Chief Justice Joseph E. Lambert today. The rule is designed to help move criminal cases through Kentucky courts in a timely manner. It will take effect Jan. 1, 2005.
The new criminal rule, RCr 13.03, extends to criminal cases the same review process already afforded to civil cases by Civil Rule 77.02. It allows criminal cases to be dismissed when insufficient action has been taken to move a pending case toward an appropriate conclusion within one year. The seven Supreme Court justices voted on the proposed rule at the request of a group of circuit judges formed to enhance case management in Kentucky courts. The seven circuit judges have been meeting regularly with Chief Justice Lambert since November 2003. The proposal for the new rule was presented for public comment at the 2004 rules hearing during the Kentucky Bar Association Annual Convention in June.
The new criminal rule, RCr 13.03, reads:
At least once each year trial courts shall review all pending criminal actions on their dockets. Notice shall be given to each attorney of record of every case in which no pretrial step has been taken within the last year, that the case will be dismissed in thirty days for want of prosecution except for good cause shown. The court shall enter an order dismissing without prejudice each case in which no answer or an insufficient answer to the notice is made. This rule shall not apply to cases where the trial court has issued an arrest warrant based on the defendant’s failure to appear in the case.
“This new rule puts in place a process to monitor, at least once a year, the pending criminal cases on trial court dockets throughout the state,” said Chief Justice Lambert. “What this means to the average citizen is a court system that can more quickly dispose of criminal cases.”
The Chief Justice said that the rule provides for cases to be dismissed “without prejudice,” which does not bar future action on a case if future circumstances warrant reopening it. The rule also contemplates delays based on a defendant who is a fugitive and eliminates the possibility of dismissal. Kentucky’s trial courts will have broad discretion to keep cases on the active docket beyond one year where delays are the result of outside factors, such as a delay in scientific testing.
Court of Appeals Gains Additional Resources
In October Chief Justice Lambert announced an initiative to enhance timely dispositions within the appellate courts. The Kentucky Court of Appeals is gaining additional assistance to support faster, more efficient decision-making. The assistance will come from three recently retired former Court of Appeals judges who will sit with the regular judges of the court to form a fifth judicial panel. The three judges are Judge Thomas D. Emberton of Edmonton, Judge Joseph R. Huddleston of Bowling Green and Judge John D. Miller of Owensboro. All three recently retired from the Court of Appeals and are current participants in the Senior Status Program for Special Judges.
"These judges are well experienced and respected across the state and will only add to the fine work of our Court of Appeals," said Chief Justice Lambert. "By using experienced judges in the Senior Status Program, we can improve the timely resolution of appellate cases with little or no additional cost to Kentucky taxpayers."
Process to Adopt Supreme Court Rules
Under the Kentucky Constitution, the Supreme Court establishes rules of practice and procedure for the state court system. Committees of the Supreme Court meet in the spring to make recommendations to the justices, who vote to allow proposed rules to go forward for a public hearing in June of each year. In the fall, the justices meet to vote on adoption of the proposed rules. If the rules are approved, they take effect Jan. 1 of the following year.
Supreme Court of Kentucky
The Supreme Court is the state court of last resort and the final interpreter of Kentucky law. Seven justices sit on the Supreme Court and all seven justices rule on appeals that come before the court. The justices are elected from seven appellate districts and serve eight-year terms. A chief justice, chosen for a four-year term by fellow justices, is the administrative head of the state’s court system and is responsible for its operation. The Supreme Court may order a ruling or opinion to be “published,” which means that the ruling becomes the case law governing all similar cases in the future in Kentucky.
Members of the Supreme Court of Kentucky
Chief Justice Joseph E. Lambert, Mount Vernon
Justice William S. Cooper, Elizabethtown
Justice J. William Graves, Paducah
Justice Martin E. Johnstone, Louisville
Justice James E. Keller, Lexington
Justice Janet L. Stumbo, Prestonsburg
Justice Donald C. Wintersheimer, Covington
Members of the Chief Justice's Advisory Group
Chief Justice Joseph E. Lambert
Julia Adams, Circuit Judge, Clark and Madison counties
Eddy Coleman, Circuit Judge, Pike County
Bill Cunningham, Circuit Judge, Caldwell, Livingston, Lyon and Trigg counties
Roderick Messer, Chief Regional Circuit Judge, Knox and Laurel counties
Phillip Patton, Circuit Judge, Barren and Metcalfe counties
James M. Shake, Chief Regional Circuit Judge, Jefferson County
William J. Wehr, Senior Status Judge, former Circuit Judge for Campbell County
Melinda L. Wheeler, Director, Administrative Office of the Courts
Scott Furkin, General Counsel, Administrative Office of the Courts