Politics & Government

Beshear does not rule out possibility of appointing Williams to judicial seat

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear left open the option on Tuesday of considering Senate President David Williams, a longtime political foe, for an open judicial seat in Williams' Southern Kentucky district.

Beshear, a Democrat, said it is too early to say who he would appoint as a circuit judge for Cumberland, Clinton and Monroe counties. Beshear said a nominating commission would have to first recommend three people for the spot held by Circuit Judge Eddie Lovelace, who died last week after reportedly suffering a stroke.

"It is obviously premature for me to comment on any particular name," Beshear said. "But I will consider every candidate put forward by the nominating committees."

Beshear made the comments while answering reporters' questions during a Capitol news conference about an unrelated topic.

Williams, a Burkesville lawyer, has not said whether he would be interested in the open judicial seat. He could not be immediately reached Tuesday for comment. When asked by The Courier-Journal last week about the possibility of seeking an appointment by Beshear, Williams said he was focused on mourning Lovelace, a close friend.

When there is a vacancy in the lower courts, a nominating commission from that judicial district selects three candidates for the governor to consider. The governor then appoints one person from the three names to serve the unexpired term.

Beshear said no one from Williams' camp has approached him to ask him to appoint Williams, who lost to Beshear in the 2011 gubernatorial race. The two have frequently been at political odds since Beshear was first elected in 2007.

If Williams were appointed, he would not be the first Republican senator to leave the legislature for the bench.

Earlier this year, Sen. Tom Jensen, a Republican from London, announced that he would not seek re-election so he could run for an open circuit court seat. In 2009, Beshear appointed former Senate Majority Leader Dan Kelly, a Republican, to the bench.

Legislators can greatly increase their pensions if they take a higher-paying executive branch or legislative branch position. A circuit court judge makes approximately $124,000 a year, more than double what most part-time legislators make.

Because of a 2005 change in pension rules, part-time lawmakers who take a job in the judicial branch or executive branch of state government can count their higher-paying, full-time state salaries when calculating their legislative pension benefits. That means lawmakers who leave the legislature for the bench could almost double their pensions.

Williams, who has been senate president since 2000, must run for re-election as senate president in the 2013 legislative session, which begins in January. The 30-day session might be a busy one. Topics that could be tackled include legislative redistricting, an overhaul of the tax code and state pension reform.

Beshear said Tuesday that it's too early to say whether he would call a special legislative session before January to deal with some of those topics.

The tax-reform commission and the pension-reform group — which have studied their respective topics for several months — will not have recommendations until November, Beshear said.

"I think it would be premature to speculate on whether we will have a special session or not," he said.

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