No judicial elections for 9 new judgeships approved by legislature– Gov. Fletcher vetos election provision and instead will appoint judges to these new positions after Jan. 1, 2007. Democrats raise specter of court packing.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher used his line-item veto to strike provisions requiring nine new judges to be elected this November, a move that allows him to appoint them instead.
 Gov. Fletcher can appoint the new judges after Jan. 1. The seven circuit court judgeships are in the following counties: Hopkins; Hardin; Bourbon, Scott and Woodford; Breathitt, Powell and Wolfe; Allen and Simpson; Boone and Gallatin; and Russell and Wayne.
 The two district judgeships are in Warren County and Clark and Madison counties.
The development, which went unnoticed Monday April 24th, after Fletcher vetoed $370 million in projects in the state budget, angered House Democrats yesterday, who said the Republican governor took away the public’s right to elect those judges.
 ”Of all the vetoes across the executive branch and the judicial budget, that particular one is the most disturbing to me,” said House Majority Whip Joe Barrows, D-Versailles. He later added, “You could raise the whole specter of packing courts.”
 It is unclear if the judges appointed by Gov. Fletcher in January of 2007, will serve till the election in November of 2007 or 2008.
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 The following article was published in the Lexington Herald Leader
Fletcher veto lets him pick judges
DEMOCRATS ANGRY, POWERLESS TO STOP IT
By Brandon Ortiz
HERALD-LEADER STAFF WRITER
Gov. Ernie Fletcher used his line-item veto to strike provisions requiring nine new judges to be elected this November, a move that allows him to appoint them instead.
The development, which went unnoticed Monday after Fletcher vetoed $370 million in projects in the state budget, angered House Democrats yesterday, who said the Republican governor took away the public’s right to elect those judges.
“Of all the vetoes across the executive branch and the judicial budget, that particular one is the most disturbing to me,” said House Majority Whip Joe Barrows, D-Versailles. He later added, “You could raise the whole specter of packing courts.”
A Fletcher spokesman said the election provisions didn’t pass constitutional muster. The state constitution forbids holding a judicial seat election before it has been funded, spokesman Brett Hall said.
The nine judgeships, seven in circuit court and two in district court, are effective Jan. 1.
“The election has to occur during its first year of funding,” Hall said. Fletcher “amended the language to conform with the constitution.” Late last night, Hall could not point to what section of the constitution the elections would have violated.
Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said Fletcher’s appointing judges is consistent with the state constitution, noting it allows him to fill judicial vacancies.
“I wasn’t surprised, nor was I disappointed,” Thayer said of Fletcher’s move. “To the victor goes the spoils. Was I happy when Bill Clinton appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the U.S. Supreme Court? No. Likewise, this governor has the right to name the people he chooses.”
Because the legislative session is over, the General Assembly cannot try to override the governor’s veto.
The veto comes a week after reports that several judges across the state are considering retiring before July 1 to receive better retirement benefits. If they step down before their terms end, Fletcher could appoint new judges to fill those vacancies, too.
The judicial bill passed the House in early March, which Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, said would have been “early enough for a veto override to be possible had the Senate enacted it” sooner.
“As long as you have a divided House and Senate, apparently these things are going to continue to happen,” Damron said. “The governor talked about not putting politics above people, but that is obviously where this provision went.”
Barrows said the judicial elections “had never been a bone of contention” between leaders of the two chambers.
Legislators could theoretically de-fund and de-authorize the nine judgeships when they reconvene next year, but it’s not clear whether the Republican-controlled Senate would support such an effort, Barrows said.
It “may depend on whether people at both ends are upset about it,” he said.
Fletcher can appoint the new judges after Jan. 1. The seven circuit court judgeships are in the following counties: Hopkins; Hardin; Bourbon, Scott and Woodford; Breathitt, Powell and Wolfe; Allen and Simpson; Boone and Gallatin; and Russell and Wayne.
The two district judgeships are in Warren County and Clark and Madison counties.
To keep their jobs, those appointees would have to run for re-election. It’s not clear whether that would take place in 2007 or 2008, Barrows said.
But incumbents, in all branches of government, are historically heavy favorites to win re-election.
“It depends on whether they are tainted by not being put in by the vote of the people,” Damron said.
 
 

Comments

  1. Bill Adkins
    10:18 am on April 30th, 2006

    “To the victor goes the spoils” says Thayer. He will hear those words again — at his next election defeat. I, for one, am grateful to Ernest. He’s set the GOP in Kentucky back to the ’60s — as in it’ll take another 40 years for Kentuckians to forget his SNAFU/FUBAR administration and before another Republican Governor is elected. As for Thayer, he’s tied his star to David Williams — won’t be pretty for him, either.