Kentucky Court of Justice
Joseph E. Lambert stepping down as Chief Justice of Kentucky
FRANKFORT, Ky., April 24, 2008 -- After a decade as chief justice and nearly 22 years as a justice of the Supreme Court of Kentucky, Chief Justice Joseph E. Lambert has decided to leave the court and join the Senior Judge Program. His resignation will be effective June 27, 2008.
"We have made great progress in the last decade to improve Kentucky courts and make them more responsive to the needs of Kentucky’s families and children," said Chief Justice Lambert. "As with any individual’s efforts, however, there comes a time to move on.
"I believe it’s a mistake to remain for too long in a high-level position in government," he said. "When I became chief justice, it was with the full intention of serving only two four-year terms. However, due to a massive number of judicial elections in 2006 and due to significant changes in the makeup of the Supreme Court at that time, I felt a duty to stay through the period of transition. I’m happy to say that the Court of Justice continues to operate smoothly and this is an appropriate time for me to move on to other professional opportunities."
Chief Justice Lambert, 59, was first elected to the Supreme Court in 1986 from the 27 southeastern Kentucky counties of the 3rd Supreme Court District. He was subsequently re-elected in 1994 and 2002. He become Kentucky’s fourth chief justice in October 1998 by a vote of his fellow justices. Chief Justice Lambert was later re-elected to two additional four-year terms as chief justice, in 2002 and in 2006.
Reflecting on his tenure, Chief Justice Lambert said, "Serving on the Supreme Court and as chief justice has been the greatest privilege of my life. I have had the honor of serving with 26 outstanding men and women, every one of whom has been a fine legal scholar and a thoroughly honorable person."
Seven justices sit on the Supreme Court, Kentucky's highest court. They are elected from seven appellate court districts and serve eight-year terms. The Kentucky Constitution provides that the justices elect one of their fellow justices to serve as chief justice for a term of four years. The chief justice is executive head of the statewide judicial system. He oversees the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) in Frankfort and the 4,000 statewide employees of the Kentucky Court of Justice, including elected justices, judges and circuit court clerks. The chief justice proposes a biennial budget to the General Assembly and executes the Judicial Branch budget.
During Chief Justice Lambert’s 10-year tenure, the Kentucky Court of Justice has made great strides in Family Court, judicial facilities, court technology, Drug Court, judicial education, pretrial services and diversity awareness. He considers passage of the Family Court constitutional amendment in 2002 to be one of his most significant accomplishments. In the last decade, Kentucky has earned a national reputation for Family Court, court facilities improvement, Drug Court and many other cutting-edge initiatives.
As a justice of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Lambert authored more than 400 published opinions of the Court and scores of dissenting and concurring opinions. In addition, he has authored more than 500 memorandum opinions. Chief Justice Lambert has been a frequent lecturer at bar conferences and has authored articles for publication in scholarly journals and the Kentucky Bar Association's Bench and Bar magazine. He has also participated in numerous national legal education events as an invited speaker or panelist. As chief justice, he has been an active member of the national Conference of Chief Justices and was elected to serve on its board of directors.
Profile of Chief Justice Lambert
In 2000, the Kentucky Bar Association named him Outstanding Judge of Kentucky. He is a former board member of the Conference of Chief Justices and a former regent of Eastern Kentucky University. He currently serves as board chair of the Kentucky Judicial Form Retirement Plan.
The Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy gave Chief Justice Lambert its Public Service Award in 2006. In 2004, he received the Civil Rights Award from both the Northern Kentucky NAACP and the Lexington NAACP for his commitment to eliminating discrimination. In 2003, he was awarded the Kentucky Bar Association President’s Special Service Award. He was given the Kentucky Public Advocate Award in 2001. In 2000, the National Association of Drug Court Professionals gave him its Leadership Award.
In October 2007, U.S. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. appointed Chief Justice Lambert to membership on the Committee on Federal-State Jurisdiction of the Judicial Conference of the United States.
He holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown (Ky.) College and a juris doctor from the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law, which gave him its Distinguished Alumni Award. He has received honorary doctor of laws degrees from Georgetown College, Eastern Kentucky University and Northern Kentucky University Chase College of Law. He is a native of Rockcastle County and resides in Mt. Vernon with his wife, Debra, an attorney. They have two sons, Joseph and John.
A Decade of Court of Justice Accomplishments
Improving Court Facilities
Chief Justice Lambert believes his greatest legacy may be the 70 new judicial centers that have been completed, authorized or begun during his tenure. These new facilities have given Kentucky citizens safe, cost-effective buildings in which to exercise their legal and constitutional rights. Kentucky's courthouses have long served as the heart of its cities and counties, yet extensive deterioration of many old courthouses threatened to compromise access to the courts. An audit in the 1990s showed that many courthouses suffered from overcrowding and safety and security issues. Outdated technology and aging electrical and mechanical systems rendered many of these buildings inadequate.
A major initiative to improve judicial buildings began in 2000 when the Kentucky Court of Justice launched the comprehensive Facilities Management System. This new system was designed to objectively and fairly set priorities for court facility improvements. Chief Justice Lambert worked with the 2000 General Assembly to pass House Bill 734, which led to the establishment of rules to regulate the state’s judicial center construction program. In October 2000, Chief Justice Lambert implemented the new system by adopting the Administrative Procedures for the Court of Justice, Part X, which carries the authority of law. In only eight years, this new approach has exceeded all expectations in its ability to provide practical and efficient judicial buildings for Kentucky citizens.
To establish the legality of Family Court in Kentucky, Chief Justice Lambert proposed and obtained passage of the 2002 Family Court constitutional amendment with more than 75 percent of voters supporting the amendment. Since then Family Court has expanded to 71 Kentucky counties with a combined population of nearly 3.2 million. Family Court provides one judge to hear all of a family’s issues relating to divorce, child custody, adoption, termination of parental rights, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect.
Because Family Court is devoted exclusively to cases involving families and children, these cases do not compete for court time with criminal and other civil cases. Family Court is a division of Circuit Court, Kentucky's highest trial court level, and employs full-time judges with the same qualifications as those who serve other divisions of Circuit Court.
Chief Justice Lambert has expanded Drug Court to 115 counties, making Kentucky a national leader in the Drug Court movement. For two years he served on the board of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.
Since the Court of Justice began implementing Drug Court in 1996, more than 2,250 participants have graduated from the program. Instead of spending time in jail, eligible participants complete a substance abuse program supervised by a judge and receive support through treatment, drug testing and case management. Because of the focus on rehabilitation, Drug Court graduates are more likely to return to productive lives where they stay gainfully employed, pay child support and meet other obligations. The program's solid track record has convinced leaders in state government, along with judges, prosecutors and treatment providers, that Drug Court is an essential component of the state court system.
Chief Justice Lambert is proud of Drug Court’s success. Two years after completing the program, Drug Court graduates have a recidivism rate of 20 percent versus 57.3 percent for those on probation without Drug Court treatment. Drug Court has saved the state more than $26 million in prison costs. For every dollar spent on Drug Court the state saves an average of $4.14 from reduced costs related to crime victims, rearrest and reconviction, increased employment rates and child support payments. As of Jan. 1, 2007, Drug Court participants had paid more than $2.2 million in child support, fines, fees and restitution.
Chief Justice Lambert has been a strong advocate for fair and equal treatment of all citizens in Kentucky courts, regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. He created the AOC Office of Minority Affairs to enhance the court system’s minority and diversity outreach programs; established the Kentucky Legal Education Opportunity (KLEO) program to offer scholarships to help historically underserved students attend law school; began a statewide network of interpreting and translating services for individuals who have a limited ability to communicate in English; and appointed the Jefferson County Commission on Racial Fairness to study claims of racial bias in Jefferson Circuit Court.
Under his direction, the Kentucky Court of Justice hosted a one-day conference titled "Equal Treatment for All: Pursuing Diversity in Kentucky Courts" in March 2008. This was the first court-sponsored forum to bring together professionals from across the state to discuss Kentucky’s progress in pursuit of diversity and fairness in the courts. Chief Justice Lambert counts creation of the KLEO program as one of his finest accomplishments.
Open and Accountable Courts
Chief Justice Lambert's administration supported the creation of a statewide court case management system that has put Kentucky on the cutting edge of court technology nationwide. Unlike many states that still maintain court data on a county-by-county basis, Kentucky's statewide network allows data to be collected from every court facility in the state and stored in a central location at the AOC in Frankfort.
Following on the heels of a disclosure that many criminal cases were pending for years and languishing in Kentucky courts, Chief Justice Lambert and a group of well-respected circuit judges from across the Commonwealth quickly moved to implement changes to ensure that no criminal case falls through the cracks. Kentucky judges are now charged with the responsibility of keeping their dockets timely and clear so that the delivery of justice is not delayed.
The AOC Department of Technology Services has also implemented a statewide e-mail system for Court of Justice personnel; launched a Web site that provides comprehensive information on the Court of Justice, Supreme Court and Court of Appeals opinions, and court dockets statewide; automated the jury management process; provided digital audio capability for court recordings in District Court; created a computerized bookkeeping program for the Offices of Circuit Court Clerk; and produced platforms to support the new E-Citation and E-Warrant programs to assist law enforcement in protecting citizens in local communities.
Kentucky Summit on Children
Chief Justice Lambert was the impetus behind the first Kentucky Summit on Children in Louisville in August 2007. Nearly 500 judges, attorneys, legislators, guardians ad litem, child welfare officials, court system personnel, and foster parents and children gathered for three days to discuss how Kentucky courts can improve services to children, one of the most pressing issues facing Kentucky today. As a follow-up to the Summit on Children, the AOC hosted nine regional meetings from October to December 2007 to gather input from communities statewide on court procedures, legislation and services pertaining to child maltreatment and juvenile delinquency.
Quotes From Professional Colleagues
David J. Leibson, Bernard Flexner Professor of Law
University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law
"Joe Lambert was one of the first students I had the honor of teaching when I came to the University of Louisville School of Law faculty. He was a smart and earnest student and has continued to exhibit those traits throughout his distinguished career. As chief justice he has guided the Supreme Court in a way that has brought honor to the legal profession as a whole and to the judiciary in particular. He has shown real concern for the average citizen of the Commonwealth and the importance of the justice system to the everyday life of us all. He has vigorously and vocally fought for adequate funding for the courts and innovative ways to make them more efficient and accessible. He will be a very tough act to follow, but a wonderful role model. I am really proud of him as an alumnus of the U of L School of Law and so happy that I can call him a wonderful friend. I wish him the best in his retirement."
Sara Walter Combs, Chief Judge
Kentucky Court of Appeals
"During his tenure leading our court system, Chief Justice Lambert has transformed and modernized courthouses across Kentucky. He has instituted innovative programs having immediate impact on people – especially Drug Court and Family Court. Perhaps he will be most remembered for his sincere commitment to expanding racial and ethnic diversity in the court system and to providing the needy with access to justice."
James E. Keller
Justice of the Supreme Court of Kentucky, 1999-2005
"Chief Justice Lambert has truly been an outstanding chief justice of the Commonwealth. He has brought about more diversity to the practice of law and the Court of Justice through his steadfast and important support of the Kentucky Legal Education Opportunity (KLEO) program scholarships. He has championed the expansion of Drug Court throughout the state. As a result of his leadership and advocacy, the Family Court constitutional amendment was adopted overwhelmingly and has resulted in the establishment of Family Court across the state. Thanks to his efforts, many rural counties now have modern courthouses that incorporate up-to-date technology. These are but a few of his accomplishments. I served under all of Chief Justice Lambert’s predecessors, and like them, Chief Justice Lambert leaves the Court of Justice in much better shape than when he assumed the duties of his office. He was indeed a good and faithful steward of the Kentucky Court of Justice.
"I had the privilege to serve six years with Chief Justice Lambert on the Supreme Court. From my first day there until I retired, I was impressed with his leadership and his fairness. As chief justice he presided when the Court met to decide cases. By his example, he encouraged each justice not only to express his or her views, but also to listen and respectfully consider the views of the other justices. He never called for a vote on a case until all justices had fully expressed their views. He was always vigilant to ensure that extraneous matters, including political views, were not a consideration in the resolution of a case. Chief Justice Lambert truly believed in the rule of law."
Filling Vacancy of Chief Justice
In the coming weeks, Chief Justice Lambert will call a vote of the justices to elect his successor as chief justice for a term of four years. The date for the vote has not yet been scheduled. The other justices of the Supreme Court are Deputy Chief Justice Will T. Scott, Lisabeth Hughes Abramson, Bill Cunningham, John D. Minton Jr., Mary C. Noble and Wil Schroder.
Filling Vacancy of Justice for 3rd Appellate Court District
Because Chief Justice Lambert's eight-year term as a justice of the Supreme Court is through Dec. 31, 2010, the process provided by the Kentucky Constitution will be followed to fill the vacancy for the 3rd Supreme Court District seat. It will be filled initially by gubernatorial appointment after the Judicial Nominating Commission process. Qualified candidates may run for the balance of the unexpired term in the November 2008 general election.
Chief Justices of the Supreme Court of Kentucky
Joseph E. Lambert, 1998-2008
Robert F. Stephens, 1982-1998
John Stanley Palmore, 1977-1982
Scott E. Reed, 1976-1977
Salary of the Chief Justice of Kentucky