Kentucky Court of Justice
Chief Justice Minton, Gov. Beshear announce plans to delay filling judicial vacancies
List of Judicial Vacancies
The four names in blue are vacancies due to election; the 23 other vacancies are due to retiring judges who took senior status. The vacancies are listed, from top to bottom, in the order in which they will be filled. The determination on which vacancies to fill first was based on several factors, including the jurisdiction's caseload, the number of other judges in that jurisdiction and the level of coverage by senior judges for that jurisdiction.
Judicial Vacancies 3-09.pdf
FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. and Gov. Steve Beshear agreed in February to delay the nominating process for 27 vacant judgeships. The decision has the effect of allowing 23 new senior judges to remain in their current seats for several months, a move that is expected to save the Commonwealth more than $1 million. Twenty-three circuit and district judges retired in recent months to enter the Senior Judges Program before it expired by operation of law on Jan. 31, 2009. An additional four circuit and district judgeships are vacant due to elections.
Under sections 118 and 152 of the Kentucky Constitution, the governor is the appointing authority for all judicial vacancies. It is the responsibility of the chief justice to convene the Judicial Nominating Commissions.
The pay for senior judges comes from a judicial retirement account instead of the state general fund, which accounts for the savings. Chief Justice Minton said he will begin convening Judicial Nominating Commissions in July 2009. The Judicial Branch will save approximately $277,000 for each month these 27 judgeships are filled by senior judges.
"Gov. Beshear and I believe this is a fiscally responsible move that will keep experienced judges on the bench while providing a substantial savings to the Judicial Branch," Chief Justice Minton said.
"We are confronting unprecedented economic challenges in Kentucky," Gov. Beshear said. "By allowing senior judges to stay in their current roles, we are not only ensuring upwards of a million dollars in savings, but the continued integrity and longstanding experience of veteran judicial leaders in courts across the Commonwealth."
There are currently 69 senior judges. The 2000 General Assembly created the Senior Judges Program, which allows judicial vacancies to be filled in a timely manner by retired judges who serve 600 days over five years. Senior judges receive no extra pay and are compensated through an enhanced retirement benefit. Under the guidelines, sitting judges are called upon to handle routine situations, such as disqualifications, recusals, vacations and short illnesses, while senior judges are reserved for vacancies due to death or retirement and extraordinary circumstances leading to unusually congested dockets.
The next election for district judges is in 2010 while circuit judges are up for election in 2014. Circuit judges serve eight-year terms and district judges serve four-year terms.
Judicial Nominating Commission
The Judicial Nominating Commission helps fill judicial vacancies by appointment when a vacancy occurs outside of the election cycle. Members of the JNC meet to select three qualified individuals and submit their names to the governor for consideration. The governor must appoint a judge within 60 days of receiving the list of nominees or the appointment is made by the chief justice from the list of nominees.
When a judicial vacancy occurs, the executive secretary of the JNC notifies the attorneys and the public in the affected circuit or district that a vacancy exists. Attorneys can recommend someone or nominate themselves. Interested attorneys must complete a questionnaire and return it to the executive secretary of the JNC at the Administrative Office of the Courts. The chief justice then meets with the JNC to choose the three nominees and submits those names to the governor in alphabetical order.
The Judicial Branch issues a news release announcing the three nominees once their credentials are sent to the governor for review. When the governor appoints the replacement, his or her office makes the announcement. The completed questionnaires and the number of applicants and their names are not released.
Composition of the Judicial Nominating Commissions
There are currently 61 Judicial Nominating Commissions in Kentucky, one for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, one for each judicial circuit and one for each judicial district. If the circuit and district have the same boundaries, then one commission serves both.
The seven members of the nominating commission are the chief justice (who serves as chairman), two attorneys elected by the attorneys in the jurisdiction of the vacancy and four non-attorney Kentucky citizens who are appointed by the governor. The four non-attorneys must equally represent the two major political parties, so two must be Democrats and two must be Republicans. A JNC member must be a resident of the circuit or district he or she represents and may not hold any other public office or office in a political party or organization.
JNC members serve four-year terms. Members are not compensated for their services, but are reimbursed for expenses for the days they perform their duties. The Administrative Office of the Courts provides administrative support for and maintains the records of the nominating commissions.