Recent retirements have created 12 judicial vacancies across Kentucky. A 13th opening exists due to the death of Jefferson Circuit Judge Kathleen Montano.
All but one of the retiring judges took senior status, which means, among other things, that they could continue handling cases in their former divisions until their replacements are selected by voters in November.
On the other hand, these vacancies gave Gov. Steve Beshear the opportunity to appoint new judges in all 13 instances. But he plans to make just six appointments, including a replacement for Montano and one for former Chief Justice Joseph Lambert.
Choosing to appoint replacements in those two instances is understandable. What is less understandable is why Beshear chose to fill just four of the 11 other vacancies by appointment. (The four are the circuit and district court vacancies in Fayette County and two district court vacancies in Jefferson County.)
By doing so, he creates the appearance of playing favorites in those four instances by giving his appointees the advantage of running as semi-incumbents this fall.
If Beshear had chosen to appoint in all 11 instances, the consistency of that approach would have reduced the appearance that politics were involved. Certainly, leaving it to voters to fill all 11 vacancies would have removed any appearance of political considerations coming into play on his part.
But by taking an inconsistent course of appointing four and leaving seven to the voters, he appears to be playing favorites.
In response to questions about Beshear's decision, the governor's office issued this statement:
”We will evaluate judicial openings on a case-by-case basis with one criterion in mind — who will be the best judge, whether that's a senior judge or through an appointment. Timing is not the issue. Rather, the concern of the governor is with being deliberative and thoughtful so as to pick the best judge. Another complicating factor is that we are experiencing a mass exodus of judges right now to retirement, along with a number of openings on judicial nominating commissions. The sheer volume of those numbers will require us to utilize both senior judges and appointments if we hope to move as expeditiously as possible. The larger issue, ultimately, is creating the best possible judicial system to serve the state of Kentucky. That is Gov. Beshear's focus. Picking the best judges possible is the cornerstone of creating such a system. That's how the governor will proceed in making such decisions.“
Gee, I'm glad they cleared that up.
Go to Kentucky.com to respond to columnist Larry Dale Keeling.