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  • Joe Graviss

Legislative Update - Kentucky's Judicial Branch

Hi everybody,

Kentucky’s Judicial Branch may be as old as its legislative and executive counterparts, but it is also fair to say it is much younger, too, given that it was overhauled in the mid-1970s by a far-reaching constitutional amendment.

            That switch re-worked a patchwork of hundreds of courts, many of which had overlapping jurisdictions and which were often overseen by judges lacking proper legal training.  There was also only one court to handle all appeals, putting a tremendous burden on those reviewing these cases.

What emerged in the wake of that constitutional amendment was a three-tiered system that in many ways resembles the federal judiciary.  That includes having a Supreme Court, which has since been led by just five chief justices.  The current leader – John Minton – took on the role a little more than a decade ago.

            Overall, the Judicial Branch is comprised of 406 elected justices, judges and circuit court clerks and 3,400 court employees, and the work they do each year is considerable.  Consider that, in 2018, district, family and circuit judges cleared 773,000 cases, or more than 2,100 a day on average.  It’s worth noting that this number is down from the 941,000 cases finalized in 2011.

            Earlier this month, and as he does each year, Chief Justice Minton appeared before the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee to give the latest annual report on his branch of government.

Part of his remarks focused on plans to form a Business Court Docket in Jefferson County by early next year.  This specialized approach would make it easier to resolve often-complex commercial cases, and it follows a trend that has led to other specialized courts in such areas as drug treatment, mental health and assisting veterans ensnared in the legal system.

Chief Justice Minton also discussed how our courts are coping with the steep increase in opioid drug cases and the related problem of jail overcrowding, two issues that are expected to be at the top of the agenda when next year’s legislative session begins in January.

While the Kentucky Supreme Court’s chambers and offices anchor the Capitol’s second floor, there are times when its members travel outside of Frankfort to bring about greater awareness of their work.  Last week, they visited Somerset to hear oral arguments in three death penalty cases and to speak with students at area schools.

Most would agree that the court system voters made possible almost 45 years ago has served Kentucky well.  We owe a lot to the nearly 4,000 men and women who make it work and who ensure that the rule of law is fairly enforced.  It’s no overstatement to say our lives would be far different without them.

If you have any thoughts on this or other issues affecting Kentucky, please let me know.  You can email me at, and you can leave a message for me or any legislator by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 800-372-7181.  For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.

Thanks for all you do and holler anytime.

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