Chief Justice John Minton Jr. proposes to fill judicial vacancies with Senior Status Judges to save Judicial Budget up to $6,000,000 during 2009 and 2010.

Section 118 of the Ky. Constitution allows the Chief Justice to serve as Chairman of all Judicial Nominating Commissions. That role impliedly allows him to call a meeting of the Judicial Nominating Commission for a judicial district in which a judicial vacancy has occurred. There is no time limit spelled out in Section 118 stating when the Chief Justice shall call the nominating commission into session.

This is the basis for the announced plan of Chief Justice John Minton to delay filling vacancies in judicial offices until the next succeeding election (2010). The Chief Justice will allow the existing Senior Status Judges to fill the vacancies. This will save the Judicial Branch about $6,000,000 in salaries that would otherwise have been paid to judges appointed to fill the current vacancies. (30 vacancies x $110,000 in salaries per year per judge x two years). There is no general election in Kentucky during 2009, and the election for judges therefore cannot be held to fill these vacancies until November of 2010.

The judges participating in the Senior Status Judges program will no longer be paid a salary out of the Judicial Branch Budget, as they will be funded through the Judicial Plan Retirement System. Obviously this action doesn’t save the state money, it just shifts the funding from the Judicial Branch to the Judicial Retirement System. Presumably that funding will have to be made up at some point to keep the Judicial Branch Retirement System in the black.

Procedure for filling Judicial Vacancies:

The Chief Justice calls a meeting of the appropriate Judicial Nominating Commission then sends the name of three nominees to the Governor for appointment. Once the names have been sent to the Governor, the Governor has 60 days in which to make an appointment. If the Governor fails to make an appointment during that 60 day period, then the Chief Justice is authorized to fill the vacancy from the list of names provided to the Governor.

So the Chief Justice can effect his plan merely by not calling into session the Judicial Nominating Commission, and there is no time limit involved, other than a requirement that the vacancy if not filled will be filled at the next general election. That will not occur until November of 2010.

Ky. Constitution –Section 118-

1) A vacancy in the office of a justice of the Supreme Court, or of a judge of the Court of Appeals, circuit or district court which under Section 152 of this Constitution is to be filled by appointment by the Governor shall be filled by the Governor from a list of three names presented to him by the appropriate judicial nominating commission. If the Governor fails to make an appointment from the list within sixty days from the date it is presented to him, the appointment shall be made from the same list by the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
(2) There shall be one judicial nominating commission for the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, one for each judicial circuit, and one for each judicial district, except that a circuit and district having the same boundary shall have but one judicial nominating commission. Each commission shall consist of seven members, one of whom shall be the chief justice of the Supreme Court, who shall be chairman. Two members of each commission shall be members of the bar, who shall be elected by their fellow members. The other four members shall be appointed by the Governor from among persons not members of the bar, and these four shall include at least two members of each of the two political parties of the Commonwealth having the largest number of voters. Members of a judicial circuit or judicial district nominating commission must be residents of the circuit or district, respectively, and the lawyer members of the commission shall be elected by the members of the bar residing in the circuit or district, respectively. The terms of office of members of judicial nominating commissions shall be fixed by the General Assembly. No person shall be elected or appointed a member of a judicial nominating commission who holds any other public office or any office in a political party or organization.

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