Politics

The chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court is renewing his call to lawmakers to redraw judicial boundaries in the state to ease caseloads in local courts.

Chief Justice John Minton said there is “urgent need” to redraw the boundaries of several judicial circuits where populations have shifted over the century — the last time the lines were changed.

“It almost doesn’t bear to comment that the population of our state has redistributed, which has altered the workload demands of the courts needed to serve the local communities,” Minton said.

He said the current scheme leads to heavy caseloads in some circuits and “hampers the ability of the courts to serve all Kentuckians as well as we should.”

Minton unveiled a plan late last year that would have added 16 family court judges across the state while eliminating 15 district and circuit court judges.

The plan would have taken effect in 2022 when all lower court judges would have been on the ballot.

The Senate passed the measure, but it was never taken up in the House.

Sen. John Schickel, a Republican from Union, said the legislature needs to act on some part of the redistricting plan during the upcoming legislative session.

“In this age when we’re reducing pensions, I don’t think you can overstate the importance of this issue in a co-equal branch of government,” Schickel said.

Minton singled out several circuits that he said needed new boundaries — the 28th Circuit, including Lincoln, Rockcastle and Pulaski counties; 16th Circuit, including Kenton County; 31st Circuit, including Floyd County; 36th Circuit, including Magoffin and Knott counties; the 14th Circuit, including Bourbon, Scott and Woodford counties; and the 6th Circuit, including Daviess County.

He also renewed his request for lawmakers to increase the salaries of judges, circuit clerks and non-elected employees.

“As you can imagine, the lack of progress that I’ve been able to make on this issue has left our judges feeling discouraged and undervalued,” Minton said.

“It also provides little incentive for the best and brightest attorneys to be willing to leave a lucrative law practice to become judges.”

About 18 percent of the state’s 3,300 non-elected court employees earn less than the federal poverty limit for a family of four — $23,550 in Kentucky.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.