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Kenton, Boone/Gallatin Judicial Districts Need Urgent Review, Chief Justice Says

Electronic filing of civil and criminal cases and other technologies have helped to modernize Kentucky’s court system. Now some say it is the state court jurisdictions themselves—not redistricted statewide since Grover Cleveland was president—that need attention.

Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton told the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary today that specific jurisdictions need “urgent” attention in 2018 even if statewide judicial redistricting of Kentucky’s court circuits and districts is delayed.

Those jurisdictions, he said, are include the Boone/Gallatin counties district and Kenton County, as well as Lincoln, Pulaski/Rockcastle counties, Floyd County, Knott/Magoffin counties, Bourbon, Scott and Woodford counties, and Daviess County.

“I do recognize that legislators have many pressing issues on their plates and judicial redistricting may not be a priority,” said Minton. “But there are critical areas across the state where judges are so overburdened that citizens are not getting equal access to justice.”

Judicial redistricting was considered by the 2017 General Assembly. Senate Bill 9, sponsored by Sen. John Schickel (R-Union) and Sen. Tom Buford (R-Nicholasville) cleared the Senate but did not pass the House. 

Schickel thanked Minton for his renewed call to action on judicial redistricting.

“I don’t think you can overstate the importance of this issue in a co-equal branch of government,” said Schickel. Judges in some jurisdictions have a much smaller workload than others, which creates imbalances, he said. “It creates a horrible problem with equal access to law for all our citizens.”

Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Louisville) who serves with Schickel on the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary, has also worked with Minton on statewide judicial redistricting. He commended Kentucky’s unified court system for the handling of a statewide caseload that now reaches nearly 900,000 cases annually—a huge number compared to some other jurisdictions, he said.

“The whole book of business in the federal government for an entire year isn’t one week of the book of business in Jefferson County,” said Nemes. “So our state courts do a great deal of work, and they’re to be commended.”

While Minton said Kentucky’s court system is open to suggestions when working on judicial redistricting legislation, he reemphasized that the jurisdictions he mentioned need urgent help. Family courts in some areas are working at more than twice the workload capacity of other courts, he told the committee.

“Citizens are having to wait incredible amounts of time in order to get their family law cases adjudicated. This is an area of urgent need, and I hope we’ll be able to … come up with a way to address at least these jurisdictions in this session, would be my request,” he said.

Schickel was receptive to Minton’s comments, signaling his intent to work with the courts on the issue in 2018.

“If we can just move this ball forward,” he said. “What we can’t do is go through another session where we don’t do anything.”

From the Legislative Research Commission

Photo: Kenton County Courthouse in Covington (RCN file)