This is an interesting story from Owensboro, Kentucky. Judge Joe Castlen retired from the local Circuit Court, but agreed to keep working in his position until a new judge could be elected to take his place. And although the election will not take place until next month, we already know the winner: District Judge Lisa Payne Jones, who is the only candidate on the ballot.
Jones’s inevitable ascension to the Circuit Court leaves a hole on the District Court, and the process of filling that seat might take some time. So Judge Castlen, who previously served on the District Court, agreed to fill that seat again until a successor is found — meaning effectively that he will swap places with Judge Jones.
Good for Judge Castlen for agreeing to take on the new role so that the District Court can keep up with its docket. It’s an elegant, if temporary, solution to a curious staffing problem.
Last week, I wrote about the sudden and tragic death of Kentucky lawyer Danny Alvarez, who had won a primary election for state judge 24 hours earlier. Alvarez was set to square off against the second place winner in the fall election. After his death, the local Board of Elections ruled that the second-place finisher would be the sole candidate on the November ballot.
Now Karen Faulkner, who finished in third place by a mere seventeen votes, is challenging the decision and arguing that she should be on the ballot as well. Details here.
Last Tuesday, Danny Alvarez won the primary for his judicial race in Kentucky. As the top vote-getter, Alvarez was set to square off against the second-place finisher, Tanisha Hickerson, in the fall general election. Hickerson herself secured second place by only seventeen votes over third-place finisher Karen Faulkner.
Tragically, Alvarez died suddenly on Wednesday. While his family and friends understandably grieve, the election officials were faced with an unexpected problem: what to do about the general election. Confessing that there is no recent precedent for this situation, the Secretary of State’s Office has announced that Hickerson would be the sole candidate on the ballot in November. Given how close Hickerson and Faulkner were in the primary, it seems likely that Faulkner will ask for a re-canvassing of the votes already cast. But even if the re-canvassing does not change the result, one can only imagine that Hickerson did not want to win a judgeship in this manner.
I reported three months ago on a judicial redistricting bill that passed the Kentucky Senate, and seemed destined to pass. It would have reallocated judgeships within the state for the first time in 124 years. But the bill eventually died in the House.
Governing has an excellent post-mortem, noting:
Kentucky’s experience illustrates a problem that many state legislatures have faced: Even when most lawmakers recognize a need to address a judicial workload imbalance, they may not be willing to fix it if it means the communities they represent would lose judges. At least three states have tried to tackle the issue in the past few years, and none has successfully implemented a plan yet.
For anyone interested in pressures placed on legislators and the related impact on courts, the entire article is a must-read.
The Chief Justices of six states — Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee — recently signed a charter to support a Regional Opioid Initiative already in place in those states. The courts’ commitment to the initiative recognizes that the epidemic crosses state borders and is most usefully addressed with a high level of cross-state cooperation. It also recognizes the key role of state judiciaries in combatting the epidemic.
The Kentucky Senate has passed a bill that would remove some general trial court judges from existing judicial districts and circuits, and add a roughly equal number of family court judges across the state. The proposed reallocation of judicial resources would be the first in 124 years. If the bill becomes law, it would go into effect in 2020.
The proposed reallocation is based on a weighted caseload study, a tool used by the federal courts (among others) for more than a decade to account for the complexity and expected resource consumption of particular case types. Murder cases and complex commercial disputes tend to consumer more judicial resources than, for example, misdeameanors or garden-variety contract disputes. Weighted caseloads try to account for these differences, and seek to allocate judges in a way that balances out the court system’s overall resources. The National Center for State Courts assisted with the study.