Voters in 22 Eastern Kentucky counties will elect a Supreme Court justice on Nov. 3 to fill the vacancy created when Will T. Scott resigned to run unsuccessfully for governor.
Court of Appeals Judge Janet Stumbo is far more experienced and qualified than her opponent, Letcher Circuit Judge Sam Wright.
In 24 years on the appellate bench, Stumbo has earned a reputation for impartiality, integrity and clear reasoning.
The first woman elected to Kentucky's highest court, Stumbo has championed openness in government and the law.
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She's a hawk on defending constitutional rights, having upheld Kentuckians' rights to a fair trial, free speech and — in the face of pipeline companies' claims of eminent domain — private property.
Wright, a circuit or district judge for 23 years, is recycling discredited claims against Stumbo.
Of the 26 candidates campaigning for judgeships in Kentucky this fall, only two have refused to abide by voluntary guidelines for preserving the judiciary's integrity.
Wright is one of the two who refused, and it's clear why. In past elections, the 15-member independent, nonpartisan Kentucky Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee has condemned the attacks Wright is hurling at Stumbo — specifically the assertion that Stumbo "sided with criminals nearly 60 percent of the time."
Wright's attack, which appeals to voters' fears and emotions, maligns the entire judicial system because good judges don't take sides; they follow the law and rule impartially. Judges' blind adherence to proper procedure — even for criminals — is what sets our system apart from kangaroo courts run by despots.
Wright says he based his claim on Stumbo's votes in published rulings in criminal appeals during her last five years on the Supreme Court. (She was unseated by Scott in 2004.) Looking only at published rulings excludes many unpublished ones, so it's hard to know how accurate Wright's claim is.
Also, Wright told us he does not know what the corresponding rate would be for other justices; without that context, Wright's attack is meaningless as well as misleading.
As the Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee told Wright, "Many convictions are reversed due to procedural, statutory or constitutional issues, and those decisions should not be represented as 'siding with criminals.' To say otherwise is to purposely mislead the electorate on the role of a judge or justice."
The committee also ruled that Stumbo had falsely claimed to have more appellate-judge experience than any other Kentuckian. With 29 years, former Justice Donald Wintersheimer beats her. The committee also found that a claim posted May 7 on Stumbo's Facebook page about Wright's fundraising practices could not be substantiated.
Wright is proud of having pioneered parent education for divorcing couples and mediation in Letcher County. He is passionate about fighting addiction through drug court.
But on a critical issue he falls far short. Stumbo says she will push hard for more transparency in the disciplinary process for lawyers. Wright told us he's not aware of any problems in the current system.
But Stumbo is correct when she says that the process is "too secretive and too slow" and that the case of Floyd County lawyer Eric Conn and similar situations erode confidence in the Kentucky Bar Association's and, ultimately, the Supreme Court's ability to "protect the public from unscrupulous lawyers."
Conn, whose unethical practices have put hundreds of his clients at risk of losing disability payments, pleaded guilty to a campaign-finance violation two years ago. But he still has his Kentucky law license, and the public is in the dark about what action, if any, the KBA has taken against him.
Stumbo says "changes need to be made" in the policing of the legal profession. Voters should return her to the Supreme Court to push for those changes.
The unendorsed candidate may submit a 250-word response by noon Thursday.