Letter to the Editor:
On November 3rd, voters will have an opportunity to raise the bar on Kentucky’s judiciary by requiring candidates for District Court Judge to have more experience. Surprisingly, candidates for District Court Judge must only have a law license for two years. Constitutional Amendment 2 raises that requirement to eight years, commensurate with every other level of Kentucky’s unified court system.
At a time when District judges face more and more responsibility and handle important issues like domestic violence, mental illness, and addiction, Constitutional Amendment 2 will benefit Kentuckians by “raising the bar” for candidates to the District Court bench. Our District judges must be prepared to handle a broad range of criminal and civil proceedings, including matters involving our most vulnerable citizens in juvenile, guardianship and mental health cases.
Kentucky’s 115 District Court judges preside over more than 700,000 new cases each year and despite being a court of limited jurisdiction, District Court judges are not limited in the scope of their work or the reach of their efforts to help Kentuckians. District Court judges preside over cases involving the following: city and county ordinances; juvenile offenses (public and status); misdemeanors; preliminary felony proceedings; violations; traffic offenses; probate matters; small claims complaints involving amounts of $2,500 or less; civil matters involving amounts of $5,000 or less; involuntary commitments; guardianship petitions; petitions for emergency protective orders and interpersonal protective orders; petitions for dependency, abuse and neglect; actions seeking involuntary inpatient treatment for substance use disorders (“Casey’s Law”); and actions seeking court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment for the seriously mentally ill (“Tim’s Law”). Many District Court judges also volunteer their time to Kentucky’s specialty courts, including Veterans Treatment Courts, Mental Health Courts and Drug Courts.
Without question, a candidate for any judicial office should be an experienced attorney. Both professional legal experience and life experience are necessary for one to be a capable jurist. Breadth of experience lends itself to a more thoughtful decision-making process for someone to choose to be a District Court judge. The District Court bench should not be viewed as a training ground but as a position one aspires to achieve. A more experienced bench benefits all Kentuckians and raising the licensure requirement will improve the public perception and confidence in the District Court judiciary.
Although numerous Constitutional Amendments were proposed during the 2020 Legislative Session, only House Bill 405, now “Constitutional Amendment 2” and Senate Bill 15, more widely known as “Marsy’s Law,” passed both chambers to earn submission to Kentucky voters on November 3rd. House Bill 405 received overwhelming bipartisan support from both legislative chambers, passing the House of Representatives by a 76-7 margin and the Senate by a 25-7 margin. Senate Bill 15 will be listed first on the ballot as Constitutional Amendment 1, while House Bill 405 will be listed second as Constitutional Amendment 2. The entire text of each amendment must be presented to voters on the statewide ballot pursuant to a ruling by the Supreme Court of Kentucky in 2019.
Constitutional Amendment 2 proposes to amend Sections 97 and 119 of the Constitution of Kentucky by extending the terms of Commonwealth’s Attorneys and District Court judges to eight years. Currently, every Circuit Court Judge, Family Court Judge, Court of Appeals Judge, and Supreme Court Justice serves an eight-year term while District Court Judges serve four-year terms. An eight-year term, coupled with an eight-year licensure requirement, would make District Court consistent with every other level of Court in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Our Commonwealth’s Attorneys, who prosecute cases in Circuit Court, currently serve six-year terms. It is not uncommon to have multiple-county circuits with a Circuit Court judge serving an eight-year term, and a Commonwealth’s Attorney serving a six-year term. To modify judicial circuits to meet the necessity of the various regions, the two positions must be selected at the same time. The eight-year term for District Court judges would take effect following the 2022 general election, while the eight-year term for Commonwealth’s Attorneys would not take effect until after the 2030 general election due to the current disparity in term lengths and the misaligned election cycles of the prosecutors and Circuit judges.
The Board of Directors of the Louisville Bar Association, the Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ Association, the Kentucky District Judges Association and District Judges for a Better Commonwealth support passage of Constitutional Amendment 2 on the November 3rd ballot.
You are more likely to come in contact with a District Court judge than any other elected official. Experience matters. On November 3rd, Vote “YES” to “raise the bar” on Kentucky’s Judiciary. Vote “YES” on Constitutional Amendment 2.
Visit www.raisethebarky.com for more information on Constitutional Amendment 2.
The Officers and Executive Committee of the Kentucky District Judges Association
The Officers of District Judges for a Better Commonwealth