No leave for Lambert

Chief Justice Joseph E. Lambert, who announced April 24 that he would retire June 27, 2008.
Chief Justice Joseph E. Lambert, who announced April 24 that he would retire June 27, 2008.

At long last someone has looked at former Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph Lambert and said, "Enough is enough."

Our congratulations to current Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr., who declined to give Lambert a leave of absence from his lucrative senior judge stint to run as a Republican for attorney general.

Lambert wanted the leave so he could, in effect, have his cake and eat it, too. If he lost the AG's race, he'd just finish out his time as a senior judge and enjoy the rich retirement benefits the program offers. The senior judge program provides retirement benefits over and above regular judicial retirement.

Minton, understandably and admirably, was more focused on protecting the impartiality of the judiciary than Lambert's financial planning. "I felt obligated to protect the judicial branch from involvement in partisan politics," he said.

For his part, Lambert whined that Minton's decision knocked him out of the race because the financial risk was too great. "I would sustain a permanent major loss of earned retirement benefits. I was prepared to accept this loss if I were elected attorney general."

So much for selfless public service.

Lambert established guidelines for leaves of absence in 2005, a time when he was rumored to be considering a run for governor in 2007.

Minton has not granted any judge a leave from the program. Lambert apparently only granted one, for a judge to complete an advanced degree at Yale University.

It comes as no surprise that Lambert's decision about running for public office is so closely tied to his financial planning. As chief justice, he designed the senior judge program that will provide him, and others, a generous retirement.

Lambert also conceived the widely criticized $880 million courthouse construction program and hired the residential architect who designed his own home to oversee it. The firm that sold the bonds on the lion's share of the courthouse projects employed Lambert's son for a time. And the construction company that got more than half the courthouse business contributed generously to the judicial campaigns of Lambert's wife, Debra.

However, even if none of this history existed, there isn't any place for a judge to take a leave of absence to engage in partisan politics. Minton made the right decision.