Friday, April 25, 2008

KY Chief Justice retires

Judge Joseph Lambert has announced his retirement as Chief Justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court. The proximate cause of this decision seems to be that, because the legislature did not pass an extension of the Senior Judge program, and Lambert, by retiring now, gets to take advantage of additional retirement benefits that he wouldn't be able to receive if he were to retire after the program expires.

What happened is fairly evident. Senate President David Williams doesn't like Lambert, and Williams must have known that if he prevented the extension of the program, Lambert would be forced into this decision. David Williams wins--again.

Although it is being reported that Lambert is popular among the states' judges, I have my doubts. As one judge told me, the sole and only purpose of the chief justice is to get along with the General Assembly. Why? Because of programs like the senior judge program. The Chief Justice is the judiciary's advocate with state lawmakers, and if he can't operate with them, then he can't do his job.

I still have not figured out what Williams has against Lambert, but Lambert's inability to smooth down William's ruffled feathers basically neutered his effectiveness with the Legislature. I have had my share of personal experience dealing with the Senate President. All it generally requires is going into his office and getting gnawed on for 5 or 10 minutes. It's his way of testing you. If he sees you can sit there and take it, then he's content, and you can proceed to talk turkey. The biggest problem people have in dealing with Williams is that they are not willing to do this.

I could be wrong, and there may be something more deep-seated here than meets they eye here, but I have a feeling Lambert wasn't willing to take the test. So now he's headed for retirement.

Lambert, in addition to being Chief Justice, is a nice guy: I hope his retirement is happy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, I think you have it wrong at least with regards to Lambert's and Williams' feud. Remember that this feud began when Lambert did not vote the way Williams wanted him to in the Seum Stephenson case, where the Court, in a 5-2 opinion, disallowed Dana Seum Stephenson from taking a seat as a senator because she was not a resident of Kentucky for the length required by the Kentucky constitution. This is the reason that Williams is against Lambert. And any lawyer who holds that against Lambert should question whether he or she has the integrity to be an officer of the court (as we lawyers are). What would you have him do, trade his vote for favor? If he did that he should be impeached.

And the office of the chief justice does much more than get along with the legislature. His first duty is to act with integrity and to protect the independence of the judiciary, and if any of his other duties interfere with that first duty (including working with the legislature), then integrity and independence should trump. Judges who are upset that the senior judge program was not extended (a program that Lambert started, by the way) should ask themselves what better course Lambert should have followed.