State Sen. Kathy Stein interested in appointment to circuit judgeship

jbrammer@herald-leader.comAugust 20, 2013 

FRANKFORT — Democratic state Sen. Kathy Stein of Lexington, considered one of the most liberal members of Kentucky's General Assembly, is interested in filling a vacant circuit judgeship in Fayette County.

Stein, an attorney elected to the state Senate in 2009 after being in the state House since 1997, said Tuesday that she "would be honored" to be considered for the job.

"It has been a rare privilege to serve the folks in the 75th House District and the 13th Senate District in the General Assembly," Stein said in a statement. "I have spent my professional life committed to public service, and would be honored to be considered for the judicial appointment."

Stein did not elaborate.

Family Court Judge Jo Ann Wise's resignation took effect earlier this month, leaving a vacancy in Fayette Circuit Court's Sixth Division.

Wise submitted a resignation letter to Gov. Steve Beshear on June 19. She said in her letter that it "has been a great honor for me to serve the citizens of Fayette County since January 2003." She did not say why she was resigning.

Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. notified the secretary of state's office Aug. 7 of the judicial vacancy.

To fill the vacancy, a seven-member judicial nominating commission chaired by Minton will submit three names to the governor to consider for an appointment.

Jamie Neal, a spokeswoman for the state courts, said Tuesday that four members of the nominating commission have not yet been appointed by the governor. The panel would not meet until all members are in place, she said.

Attorneys in the circuit may recommend someone to the commission or nominate themselves. The names of the applicants are not released. Once three people are nominated by the commission and their names are sent to the governor with no preference noted, the governor has 60 days to appoint a replacement and make the announcement.

If the governor does not appoint a judge within 60 days of receiving the list of nominees, the appointment is made by the chief justice from the list of nominees.

Stein enjoys a good working relationship with the governor, also a Democrat. If Beshear appoints Stein, she would make $124,620 a year, more than double what most part-time legislators make.

Because of a 2005 change in pension rules, part-time lawmakers who take jobs in the judicial branch or executive branch can count their higher-paying, full-time state salaries when calculating their legislative pension benefits.

A family court judge hears cases relating to divorce, child custody, adoption, termination of parental rights, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect.

Family court is a division of circuit court, Kentucky's highest trial court level, and it employs full-time judges with the same qualifications as those who serve other divisions of the circuit court. Family court is held in 71 counties, serving more than 3.2 million Kentuckians.

Stein's predecessor in the Senate, Democrat Ernesto Scorsone, became a Fayette circuit judge in 2008. Former Senate President David Williams of Burkesville left the legislature last year to become a circuit judge.

Stein, Kentucky's only Jewish legislator, has been popular in her downtown Lexington legislative districts. She was unopposed for re-election in 2012.

Earlier that year, Senate Republicans tried to move Stein's district to the northeastern part of the state in a Senate redistricting plan, but the Kentucky Supreme Court later declared the plan unconstitutional. Some Democrats said the move was a deliberate effort by Republican leaders to punish Stein, who was among the most vocal critics of Williams.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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