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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Courts - Kentucky senior judge program sparks many objections

Andrew Wolfson and Jason Riley of the Louisville Courier Journal have a lengthy story today on problems with Kentucky's senior judge program. It begins:

Lawyers routinely gave her by far the worst marks in bar surveys. And in November, Jefferson County voters removed her from office after eight years in District Court.

But Paula Fitzgerald is back -- as a senior judge, one of 42 retired judges statewide who work part time to help handle the Kentucky courts' growing caseload.

To Fitzgerald's critics, her appointment undermines the voters' will and points out the lack of merit screening that other states have in place for selecting senior judges.

"The voters threw her out, and now she doesn't have to answer to the voters anymore," said Jefferson Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Stengel, who protested Fitzgerald's appointment to Kentucky Chief Justice Joseph Lambert. "There is no accountability."

Stengel said Fitzgerald's behavior in court was "eccentric to the point of being bizarre." He said she refused to enter the results of cases in a courtroom computer and to fax approval for search warrants to police or prosecutors.

Lambert said that he was aware of the criticism of Fitzgerald but that he has no discretion to exclude judges from the program, as long as they meet the age and service requirements and have no pending disciplinary complaints.

Later in the story:
Unlike some states, Kentucky has no merit screening of appointments for senior judges, who are assigned to fill vacancies around the state and agree to serve 120 days a year for five years. In exchange, they receive enhanced retirement benefits usually worth several thousand dollars a year.

In Indiana, applicants must apply to a commission and submit the names of three lawyers who appeared in their court. In Tennessee, the Supreme Court must determine that an applicant's service "would promote the effective administration of justice."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 14, 2007 09:50 AM
Posted to Courts in general