SENIOR JUDGES ACT WOULD HINDER INCLUSION OF JUDGES REMOVED BY ELECTION BUT WOULD ALLOW AN APPEAL TO SUPREME COURT. See full text of HB 465.

 In a story published in the Herald–Leader the Chief Justice says that in the 2000 session of the legislature, that wording in the original act would have allowed the Chief Justice to refrain from assigning Senior Judges back to their home county if they had been removed from office by election.  

The current wording of  legislation  (see HB 465 ) would not allow a judge removed by an election to be allowed into the Senior Judges program unless they were approved by the entire Supreme Court.

The Herald–Leader article stated:


 By Brandon Ortiz –  HERALD-LEADER
Chief Justice Joseph Lambert has told reporters that he has no authority to bar a senior judge from serving in a county in which he or she lost re-election.
But that’s different from what he told legislators in 2000, when he was urging them to pass the program.
“It would seem to me that a chief justice would be well advised not to assign a judge” to a county where the judge had lost re-election, Lambert testified to the House Judiciary Committee, according to a transcript.
Jason Nemes, Lambert’s chief of staff and the acting director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, said the chief justice’s position has been consistent. He said there had been a provision in the bill that would have given Lambert such discretion but it was later stripped during the legislative process.
“There was a number of different questions and that was one of them, whether he should have discretion,” Nemes said. “He said then that he should.”
Lambert said during testimony he would be against a blanket ban on defeated judges serving in the program.
A House committee approved last week a bill that would ban defeated judges from the program in the future.
Several prosecutors contend that the program is unconstitutional because senior judges are not elected.     In Louisville, an unpopular district judge who lost re-election last year is now presiding over cases as a senior judge.
“Kentucky has had a long-standing and deep-seated tradition of electing our judges,” Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Larson said. Elections make “judges accountable for their decisions.”
Some prosecutors have tossed around the idea of filing a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality, but thus far that’s never gained any traction, Larson said.
“If you challenge it in court, who’s going to make the decision on these things? It is going to be the Supreme Court … a great proponent of the program,” Larson said.
Supporters note that the state constitution allows the chief justice to appoint special judges on a temporary basis.
House Bill 465, sponsored by Rep. Rob Wilkey, D-Scottsville, would prohibit senior judges who lost re-election from participating in the program and provide a screening mechanism for judges.
Currently, “you could be the worst judge in history and get into the program,” Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney R. David Stengel said.
Former senior judge Stan Billingsley, who edits a law blog on lawreader.com, said senior judges do not rule any differently than when they were elected.
Nonetheless, he conceded, there is less pressure and more freedom to make correct but unpopular decisions — something prosecutors don’t like.
“Some prosecutors,… like the idea that they have a political power base in their county,” Billingsley said. “That to me is more worrisome than a judge who votes his conscience.”

HB 465

AN ACT relating to the Court of Justice.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky:


Section 1.   KRS 21.580 is amended to read as follows:

(1)     As a pilot project to determine the effectiveness of using senior retired judges to combat backlog and delay in Kentucky courts, there is hereby created a “Senior Status Program for Special Judges.” The program shall be implemented as follows:

(a)     KRS 21.400(1) and any other provision in KRS Chapter 21 to the contrary notwithstanding, a member who retires and who meets the criteria specified in subsection (2) of this section[at a time when combining his total years of judicial service credit and his age equals or exceeds the number seventy-five (75),] may elect, within ninety (90) days following retirement, to participate in the “Senior Status Program for Special Judges,” if he complies with the provisions of this subsection. In that event, the member shall be entitled to a service retirement allowance, commencing at the member’s normal retirement age, payable monthly during his lifetime in an amount equal to five percent (5%) of his final compensation multiplied by the number of years of his judicial service, not to exceed twenty (20) years of judicial service at the five percent (5%) factor, not to exceed one hundred percent (100%) of final compensation. “Final compensation”, notwithstanding any provision to the contrary, for all members retiring under any provision of KRS 21.345 to 21.570 or this section, or similar statutes governing the same positions, as defined in KRS 21.400 shall be based on a period of thirty-six (36) months. Any nonjudicial time shall be counted as is otherwise provided in KRS Chapter 21, but in no event shall service retirement allowance exceed one hundred percent (100%) of final compensation.

1.      In the event the retiring judge elects to retire as a “Senior Status Special Judge” under this subsection, he shall commit to serve, upon appointment by the Chief Justice of the Commonwealth, as special judge for one hundred twenty (120) work days per year for a term of five (5) years without compensation other than the retirement benefits under this subsection. The Senior Status Special Judge may agree to work more than one hundred twenty (120) days in any year within the five (5) years of service; however, the Senior Status Special Judge shall be compensated as otherwise provided by law, in addition to his retirement benefits, for any days served in excess of one hundred twenty (120) in that year. If the Senior Status Special Judge has not served a total of six hundred (600) days within the five (5) year period outlined in this subsection, the Chief Justice shall require the Senior Status Special Judge to serve at no additional compensation to the Senior Status Special Judge, until the six hundred (600) day period is served by the Senior Status Special Judge. The Senior Status Special Judge and the Chief Justice may agree in writing to serve less than the one hundred twenty (120) days in any one (1) or more of the five (5) years; however, any of the days not served in a given year shall be served at the end of the five (5) year period set forth in this subsection.

2.      Should any member electing to retire under the Senior Status Program for Special Judges fail, when ordered by the Chief Justice to serve the requisite number of days not to exceed one hundred twenty (120) days a year for the five (5) year period outlined in this subsection, unless otherwise agreed in writing, he shall no longer be eligible for benefits computed under this subsection and shall return to the benefits otherwise provided under this chapter.

3.      Subject to Section 110(5)(b) of the Kentucky Constitution, the Chief Justice shall give due regard, when practical, to the desirability of appointing Senior Status Special Judges to serve within their judicial region as defined by the regional administration charter.

(b)     The inviolable contract provisions of Kentucky law, KRS 21.480, shall apply during the period of time that KRS 21.580 is effective; however, no other provisions of 2000 Ky. Acts ch. 305 shall be considered subject to an inviolable contract of the Commonwealth.

(c)     Nothing contained in this section shall be construed to invalidate provisions in the current law which require a penalty for retiring before the normal retirement age.

(2)     Members seeking entry into the Senior Status Program for Special Judges after the effective date of this Act shall meet each of the following criteria, if applicable:

(a)     The member’s total years of judicial service credit and the member’s age when combined shall equal or exceed seventy-five (75) years;

(b)     A member seeking entry into the program who is under the age of sixty (60) shall have twenty (20) years or more of actual judicial service;

(c)     A member seeking entry into the program who is age sixty (60) or over shall have ten (10) years or more of actual judicial service;

(d)     If the member is a retiring District Judge, the member shall not have been defeated at the most recent election for a District Court judgeship;

(e)     If the member is a retiring Circuit Judge, the member shall not have been defeated at the most recent election for a Circuit Court judgeship;

(f)      If the member is a retiring Judge of the Court of Appeals, the member shall not have been defeated at the most recent election for a Court of Appeals seat;

(g)     If the member is a retiring Justice of the Supreme Court, the member shall not have been defeated at the most recent election for a Supreme Court seat; and

(h)     The member shall have been certified by the Judicial Conduct Commission as meeting the qualifications for the program and as being otherwise fit for continued judicial service.

(3)     A member denied certification under subsection (2)(h) of this section may appeal the denial to the Supreme Court, which shall conduct a de novo review of the member’s qualifications for the program and fitness for continued judicial service.

(4)     No later than thirty (30) days following the end of each fiscal year, the Judicial Retirement System shall provide a written report to the Legislative Research Commission and the Chief Justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court containing:

(a)     The number of members who have retired as Senior Status Special Judges since the effective date of this Act;

(b)     The amount of compensation and other benefits paid to those Senior Status Special Judges;

(c)     The number of days each Senior Status Special Judge has served as a special judge;

(d)     The fiscal impact on the Judicial Retirement System and the general fund as a result of the retirement of the Senior Status Special Judges; and

(e)     Any other relevant information that may be requested.

(5)     The Senior Status Program for Special Judges created by this section shall be open to any member who is a judge in office on the effective date of this Act[June 24, 2003], and who subsequently retires as a Senior Status Special Judge on or before July 1, 2012[January 31, 2009].

Section 2.   2000 Ky. Acts ch. 305, sec. 4 is repealed.

Comments are closed.