Attorney Sidebar: Four things you need to be a good judge

James C. Chenault

To be a good judge, it takes four things: impeccable honesty willingness to work, a personality like people generally, and some knowledge of the law. If you go through your professional life devoted yourself to being a lawyer,er, if you devote yourself to the profession, you have a tremendous legal curiosity about all of it. In this coun we accept what the course do more than anyplace else in the world.

~ James C. Chenault
Kentucky Lawyers Speak, page 82.

Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Nominated to 6th Circuit Court of Appeals by President Obama

Screenshot 2016-03-17 20.44.11President Barack Obama has nominated Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Lisabeth Tabor Hughes to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Hughes, who went by the name Lisabeth Hughes Abramson until a recent divorce, has served on the Kentucky Supreme Court since 2007.

“Justice Lisabeth Tabor Hughes has a long and impressive record of service and a history of handing down fair and judicious decisions,” Obama said in a press release.. “She will be a thoughtful and distinguished addition to the Sixth Circuit, and I am extremely pleased to put her forward.”

From Justice Hughes bio at AOC:

Lisabeth T. Hughes was sworn in as a justice for the Supreme Court of Kentucky on Sept. 10, 2007, after being appointed to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of the late Justice William E. McAnulty, Jr. In November 2008, the voters of Jefferson County elected her to serve as the justice from the 4th Supreme Court District. She was re-elected, unopposed, in November 2014.

Justice Hughes first served in the Kentucky judiciary as a Court of Appeals judge from 1997 to 1998. From January 1999 to July 2006, Justice Hughes served as a circuit judge for the 30th Judicial Circuit, Division 3 of the Jefferson Circuit Court. In July 2006, she was reappointed to the Court of Appeals and was later elected unopposed to that court where she was serving at the time of her appointment to the Supreme Court.

Justice Hughes earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Louisville where she graduated in 1977 with highest honors. She graduated magna cum laude from the U of L School of Law in 1980 and was named the Outstanding Graduate of her law school class. Before serving as a judge, she practiced law for 15 years, concentrating on business and commercial litigation.

Justice Hughes is president of the Louis D. Brandeis Inn of Court. She is the Supreme Court representative on the Kentucky IOLTA Board and chair of the Civil Rules Committee. She is a past president of the U of L School of Law Alumni Council and previously served as a trustee for the Kentucky Judicial Form Retirement System Board. Justice Hughes is a former Louisville Bar Association Judge of the Year and was the U of L Alumni Fellow in 2009. She is a frequent lecturer for the Kentucky Circuit Judges College and is a 2007 graduate of Leadership Louisville.

Justice Hughes is a native of Princeton, Ky. She has three sons.

Attorney: Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office ‘not accurate’ in response to judge’s harassment claims – WDRB 41 Louisville News

Attorney: Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office ‘not accurate’ inresponse to judge’s harassment claim – WDRB 41 Louisville News, Ky. (WDRB) — An attorney for District Court Judge Stephanie Burke on Tuesday criticized the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, saying the department hasn’t been transparent in its response to his client’s repeated allegations of misconduct by a top deputy.

In an interview, Thomas E. Clay said that statements made in a WDRB News story Monday by Lt. Col Carl Yates, a spokesman for the department, “which indicate that the sheriff and members of his command staff had no knowledge of this matter are not accurate.”

And Clay called for Sheriff John Aubrey to investigate the conduct of Maj. Gerald Bates and turn over any documents the office has involving the judge’s complaints.

Retire COA Judge Charles Lester Dies

Retired chief judge was passionate legal scholar, a retired chief judge of the Kentucky Court of Appeals, died Sunday at his home in Bradenton, Florida. He served as chief judge from Dec. 16, 1990, until his retirement. In 1997, he convinced longtime friend and co-judge Anthony Wilhoit, whod retired, to become the executive director of the commission.

The Kentucky legal community, family and friends are mourning retired judge Charles Bruce Lester, whom they describe as a passionate legal scholar, a judge to be emulated and an affable man.

Lester, a retired chief judge of the Kentucky Court of Appeals, died Sunday at his home in Bradenton, Florida. He was 84.

A Campbell County native and former Fort Thomas resident, Lester was a highly respected lawyer in Northern Kentucky before serving 20 years, from Aug. 17, 1976 to July 1, 1996, as a judge on the state court of appeals. He served as chief judge from Dec. 16, 1990, until his retirement. He went on to serve as chairman on the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission.

“He was just the best,” said Mary “Kate” Molloy, a senior staff attorney with the Kentucky Supreme Court and 31-year attorney in Northern Kentucky. Molloy worked as Lester’s staff attorney at the appeals court for three years at the start of her career.

Northern Kentucky attorney Mark Arnzen said he practiced against and with Lester when Lester was an attorney and argued cases before the judge at the Kentucky Court of Appeals in Frankfort.

Read more . . . 

Judge John G. Heyburn dies after battling cancer – from WHAS 11

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 8.49.37 PM

Judge John G. Heyburn

Judge John G. Heyburn dies after battling cancer

Heyburn, the judge who ruled that same-sex couples in Kentucky have a right to marry has died, according to officials. Judge Heyburn was appointed to the federal judge post by George H.W. Bush in 1992 and also served as chief judge from 2001 to 2008.

According to a statement, Heyburn was battling liver cancer for almost four years when he died from the illness Wednesday. He was 66.

“Not only was Judge Heyburn a fine judge, he was also a visionary who regardless of politics, interpreted the law without prejudice. His decision affirming our right to be married in the state of Kentucky was the catalyst that has led us to the highest court in this nation. There is no doubt in my mind that God has welcomed him home with open arms and a resounding, “Well done my child, well done,” Reverend Maurice Bojangles Blanchard said in a statement released Wednesday.  Read more… 

Judge Mac Swinford’s sage advice on judges and judging from the “Kentucky Lawyer”

Judge Mac Swinford photo from his interview on Comment on Kentucky Hosted by  Al Smith

Judge Mac Swinford photo from his interview on Comment on Kentucky Hosted by
Al Smith

I am reminded of some sage advice from a Kentucky judge that was originally published in his book in 1963 – “Kentucky Lawyer.”  The book can be read in one evening but do not be fooled by its size for its wisdom is timeless and a reminder of what the profession of law can and  should be.  If I had the honor to mentor a young lawyer, I would make this book required reading.  If a newly elected judge should ask me if there is a book on the art of judging, I would commend him to read this book with a reminder of  Luke 12:48 “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.”


In my years on the bench I have never once had a show of discourtesy or disrespect.  I fully realize that this is not because of me personally but because of the high office which I am privileged to hold.  The office receives this respect, and justly so, because of the character and the ability of the men who have preceded me in the office.  It is due to them and their learning, erudition and fairness, that the bar accepts me on the terms which my predecessors have established.  I am constantly aware of this, and my only fear is that in some careless moment I may say or do something, either on or off the bench, that could bring the slightest disrespect to the office which has stood so high in Kentucky jurisprudence for so long.

* * *

There have been instances, I know, in which the judge seems to feel that the bench is a stage from which he, as chief actor in the drama of the trial, must perform as a wit or a tyrant.  There have been judges who have become obsessed with a desire to be “characters” and have indulged in witticisms or abuses that are fitting neither the dignity of the office nor the stature of the personality that temporarily occupies it.

The story is told of an occasion in the trial of an important lawsuit when the judge in a fit of anger, sharply and with excuse, severely rebuked one of the attorneys.  The lawyer then turned his back on the court and walked toward the door of the courtroom.  The judge called out, “Sir, are you trying to show your contempt for the court?”

“No, Your Honor, I’m trying to conceal it,” was the reply.

An “overspeaking judge”

Sir Francis Bacon in his essay on the judiciary said: “An overspeaking judge is no well-tuned cymbal.”  Those of our profession who occupy the bench should be constantly aware of this striking metaphor.  It is very tempting at times for a judge to make witty or sarcastic  remarks to the delight of the spectators; however, a judge should remember that such speech is beneath the dignity of the court and always at the expense  of someone who cannot answer back.  The situation is something like that of a boxer who hits a handcuffed opponent.

Pages 9 and 10, Kentucky Lawyer.

Mac goes on to admit a failing of his own in this regard which was followed immediately by his acknowledgement of the transgression and a sincere apology.

You can purchase this book from Amazon Book by clicking here.  I do not get a commission.

Call me Mac. A Biography of Judge Mac Swinford Presentation by Professor William Fortune at the 2013 KBA Covention

Judges: Recent Comments by Local Louisville Judge Draw Criticism

From USA Today is the following story about a local judge’s comments on a victim’s impact statement.  For the entire story, click the title below:

Judge Selfie’s’ rebuke of victims stirs racist backlash

LOUISVILLE — He’s been on the bench for nearly six years and plastered so many pictures of himself on Facebook that a colleague dubbed him “Judge Selfie.” But until he criticized the victims of an armed robbery for “fostering” the views of their 5-year-old daughter, whom they said was still scared of black men after two African Americans had held the family at gunpoint, Judge Olu Stevens was largely unknown outside the Jefferson County Judicial Center.

But now the story about that case, first reported in The Courier-Journal, has ricocheted around the world, retold in newspapers from New York to London. And it has ignited a firestorm of criticism of Stevens, some of it ugly, racist and menacing.

For the entire story go to

Other stories on-line are:

Was judge’s Facebook comment on victim-impact statement an ethics violation?
American Bar Association Journal Apr 13, 2015, 8:11 am CDT

Judge faces calls to be sacked after he accuses victims in armed robbery case of
Daily Mail – ‎Apr 14, 2015‎

Judge’s rebuke of victims stirs racist backlash
The Courier-JournalApr 17, 2015

Letters | On Judge Olu Stevens
The Courier-JournalApr 15, 2015

Stories via a Google Search.

SC: David Barber, Roger Riggs, and Janet Stumbo Nominees to fill Supreme Court Vacancy

"It's elementary Watson, the next Supreme Court of Kentucky Justice will be . . . . "

“It’s elementary Watson, the next Supreme Court of Kentucky Justice will be . . . . “

Judicial Nominating Commission announces nominees for Supreme Court seat in Eastern Kentucky

FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Judicial Nominating Commission, led by Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr., today announced nominees to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat for the 7th Appellate Court District. The district is comprised of 22 counties in Eastern Kentucky. The vacancy was created when Justice Will T. Scott stepped down Jan. 2 to run for Kentucky governor.

The three attorneys named as nominees to fill the vacancy are David Allen Barber of Prestonsburg, Roger Donald Riggs of Mount Sterling and Janet L. Stumbo of Van Lear.

Barber is a policy and legal adviser in House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s legislative office and served as a Kentucky Court of Appeals judge from 2000 to 2007. He is a partner in the law firm of Richardson, Barber & Williamson in Owingsville. He received his juris doctor from the University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law.

Riggs is an attorney with the law firm of Morgan, Collins & Yeast in Mount Sterling. He previously served as a Kentucky administrative law judge in the Kentucky Department of Workers’ Claims, where he presided over workers’ compensation claims throughout the state. He received his juris doctor from the University of Kentucky College of Law.

Stumbo is serving her seventh consecutive year as a Kentucky Court of Appeals judge for the 7th Appellate Court District. She was a Supreme Court justice from 1993 to 2004. She received her juris doctor from the University of Kentucky College of Law.

The counties in the 7th Supreme Court District are Boyd, Breathitt, Carter, Elliott, Floyd, Greenup, Harlan, Johnson, Knott, Lawrence, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, Menifee, Montgomery, Morgan, Owsley, Perry, Pike, Powell, Rowan and Wolfe.

Judges: 2015 Group Photo of Jefferson Family Court Judges on Jan. 5, 2014 – the day of their investiture

Back Row:  Haynie, Hagarty, Deweese, McDonald, George. Sitting:  Berry, Brown, Sherlock, Johnson and Ward

Back Row: Haynie, Hagarty, Deweese, McDonald, George.
Sitting: Berry, Brown, Sherlock, Johnson and Ward


Well, I found a photo of Family Court Judges who were sworn in for Jefferson County.

Now, just for the district court judges, and I will have a full house!

JUDGES: 2015 Group Photo of the Jefferson Circuit Judges on day of their Investiture

Back Row:  Cunningham, Edwards, Smith, Willett, Bisig, Stevens, Shake Sitting:  Shaw, Gibson, Chauvin, Eckerle, McDonald-Burkman

Back Row: Cunningham, Edwards, Smith, Willett, Bisig, Stevens, Shake
Sitting: Shaw, Gibson, Chauvin, Eckerle, McDonald-Burkman

January 5, 2015 was the investiture of the judges throughout Kentucky.  Here is a group photo of 2015 Jefferson Circuit Court Bench (not Family and not District).  For the record, I “borrowed” this picture from Judge Angela Bisig’s Facebook pages.

If someone shot a group photo of family court and district court judges, please share.

BTW.  I like to play around with color/black & white conversions, and here is the above photo with a “sepia” effect to give it a dated look.