State judicial redistricting plan calls for new family court judge in Whitley, McCreary County circuit
Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr.’s judicial redistricting plan would keep Whitley and McCreary counties together, but calls for the elimination of one circuit court judge and the addition of a new family court judge.
According to a press release distributed by the Administrative Office of the Courts, the changes to judicial circuits and districts across the Commonwealth were determined by calculating the number of judges needed in each.
Minton’s plan will be sent to the General Assembly for consideration during the 2017 regular session.
If passed, the plan will take effect in 2022, when all circuit, family and district court judges are on the ballot.
Minton said the redistricting plan was developed at the request of the state legislature in 2014.
Unlike legislative boundaries, which are redrawn to reflect changes in population, AOC officials explained that in the spring of 2015, judges across the state logged how they spent their time handling cases and taking care of judicial duties outside of court as part of an effort to formulate the implied need of the number of judges in each district/circuit.
AOC officials stated that 95 percent of the 263 judges participated.
Based on this study, the four judges that the serve the 34th Judicial Circuit/District: Dan Ballou, Paul Winchester, Cathy Prewitt and Fred White spend the vast majority of their time in Whitley County.
Minton explained that it was not just the number of cases on a judge’s docket, but the complexity of those cases that was among the factors taken into consideration.
Minton said that judges across the state were contacted to give their input concerning the proposal.
Based on the numbers, the implied need in Whitley County is 1.01 in district court, 1.02 in circuit court and .92 in family court. When McCreary County is added, the implied need becomes 1.5 in district court, 1.38 in circuit court and 1.29 in family court
Minton explained that analysis of the data indicated that a single judge could handle an implied need of up to 1.4
“Changing boundary lines and reallocating resources is never easy, which is why judicial redistricting hasn’t been addressed for so long,” Minton said noting the last state-wide judicial redistricting occurred in 1892.
Minton noted that the new family court judge will take some of the work from both district and circuit courts.
Family court deals with divorce, adoption, status offenses, DVO’s and EPO’s, neglect and abuse, paternity and child support cases.
Prewitt said she has been a supporter of family court since the Constitutional Amendment was passed, agreeing with Minton that the court dockets are increasingly comprised of cases that fall under the family court.
“It is drugs,” Prewitt said when asked why that is occurring. “We are inundated with drugs, which is leading to move removal of children from homes.”
Prewitt added that the family court brings a variety of cases that may involve the same family into the same courtroom. As a result, a judge becomes familiar with the participants in a set of particular cases that may have multiple facets.
“It allows for the concept of ‘One judge, one family,” Prewitt said.
The 27th Judicial District/Circuit, which is comprised of Knox and Laurel counties, will receive a second family court judge.
According to the data, Knox and Laurel District Court has an implied need of 2.78, while circuit court implied needs is 2.02 and family court is 1.52.
Minton said the need for the additional family court judges is part of a trend in the court system that is tasked with dealing with more family issues.
The number of family court judges will increase under the plan from 52 to 68.
Minton said while there is nothing that legally bars drawing separate boundaries for district and circuit courts, adding that in some situations that may be ideal, the goal is to keep the district and circuits in the same courthouses in each county.
Minton said that overall, the plan is a shifting of judicial resources noting only one new judgeship is being added.
Minton said the next step in the process is for the state legislature to take up the report and approve it.
While there will be discussion among the legislators, Minton said that judicial redistricting is a power given to the supreme court under the Kentucky Constitution, meaning the legislature may not make changes to the proposal.
Though there is nothing in the constitution that sets out how often judicial redistricting should occur, Minton said, ideally, it would be done every 10 years in conjunction with legislative redistricting.
“There are pockets of Kentucky that are underservice judicially and places that are just the opposite,” Minton said. My commitment is going to be that we have an on-going analysis.”