KY Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton calls for more family court judges

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If passed as suggested, the ordinance would add eight circuit court judges and eliminate eight district court divisions.

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Along with the looming task of legislative redistribution, the Republican-dominated state legislature may have another electoral map to consider at the next General Assembly in 2022: the state’s judicial system. Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton has called for several changes to the makeup of Commonwealth circuit and district courts.

In an order from last week, Minton issued a “certification of necessity for the creation and elimination” as well as the reorganization of judicial districts. The order applies to fewer than 20 district and circuit courts.

If adopted as suggested, it would add eight circuit court judges and eliminate eight district court divisions.

Allocations are to be decided by the state legislature, whose Republican caucuses hold qualified veto-proof majorities in both houses of the state legislature.

Minton Chief of Staff Katie Shepherd said earlier efforts to add judges to some circuit courts without also eliminating some judge positions had not been well received by the state legislature.

Statewide judicial redistribution, Shepherd said, is ultimately necessary but has not happened since 1893 – 128 years ago.

Senator John Schickel, R-Union, tabled a statewide plan that was passed by the Senate in 2017, but never had a home hearing. Shepherd stressed that Minton’s current proposal is not a statewide plan.

Unlike the realignment that will have to take place for the state and national legislative districts of Kentucky, the judicial realignment has “very little to do” with population and everything to do with the workload of each court.

And since the Legislature gave the green light in 2014 to conduct a Judicial Workload Assessment, with the latest batch of results coming from 2017-2019, Minton’s office has suggested several circuit courts in need of a additional judge and other district courts that might use one less.

“(The ordinance) takes into account a time study that the judges completed, where they basically spent a month and recorded their time for everything they do,” Shepherd said. “At the end of the day, you get the exact amount of time it takes to deal with particular types of cases. “

Some judges – she mentioned the Knox and Laurel Counties Family Court chaired by Stephen M. Jones – do more than double the average judge’s caseload. Jones, in particular, has the job of two and a quarter judges.

Others, like Floyd District Court, have less than half the workload of the average circuit judge.

In general, Shepherd said, circuit judges had a higher workload than district judges. Family court is badly needed, she said, with Minton’s proposal adding five family court divisions and removing none.

None of the district courts on the chopping block saw all of the incumbents get re-elected. Shepherd said retirements could be a deciding factor in deciding which districts lose a judge and that the courts are not dictating when changes should occur. .

Shepherd said 2018 was the last time the makeup of some circuit and district court divisions changed, although only three were added and three removed.

In the current proposal, eight circuit court judges would be added, five being family court judges. Eight district judges would be abolished.

Spokesmen for State Senate Speaker Robert Stivers and Speaker of the House David Osborne have not commented on Minton’s order.

Below are the additions, eliminations and realignments proposed by Minton:

Additions proposed by the circuit judges:

  • 27th Circuit: Knox and Laurel (family)

  • 14th Circuit: Bourbon, Scott and Woodford (family)

  • 56th Circuit: Caldwell, Livingston, Lyon and Trigg

  • 6th Circuit: Daviess (family)

  • 16th Circuit: Kenton (family)

  • 8th Circuit: Warren

  • 25th Circuit: Clark and Madison

  • 3rd Circuit: Christian (family)

Proposed Eliminations and Rearrangements for District Judges:

  • 31st district: Floyd

  • 41st arrondissement: Clay, Jackson and Leslie

  • Combine the 42nd District (Calloway District Court) with the 58th District (Marshall District Court) to create a newly constituted 42nd Judicial District

  • 4th district: Hopkins

  • 51st district: Henderson

  • Move Edmonson County from the 38th Judicial Circuit and District (Butler, Edmonson, Hancock and Ohio) to the 8th Judicial Circuit and District (Warren County)

  • Remove County Clinton from the 40th Judicial District (Clinton, Russell and Wayne) and renumber the remaining counties, Russell and Wayne, as the 57th Judicial District

  • Add Clinton County to the 60th Judicial District (Cumberland and Monroe) and renumber the newly combined counties (Clinton, Cumberland and Monroe) to the 40th Judicial District.

  • 30th district: Jefferson

  • The current 57th Judicial District (Nelson County) will be renumbered 58th Judicial District.

Austin Horn is a political reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. He previously worked for the Frankfort State Journal and National Public Radio. Horn has roots in Woodford and Martin counties.


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