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After 16 years on the bench, Shelby District Judge Linda Armstrong will preside for the last time today.
At her retirement reception Wednesday, Armstrong glanced around at the room overflowing with friends and colleagues, and reflected on her retirement.
“I have mixed feelings,” she said. “I am really ready to spend more time with my family, but I will miss it,” she said, taking in both the people and her courtroom beyond.
Armstrong, the chief district judge for the 53rd Judicial District, raised eyebrows when she withdrew from the 2014 election on the last day citing health and personal reasons. She then tendered her resignation shortly after that in February.
She said at that time that her condition, though not life-threatening, would impact her ability to continue to perform her duties as judge.
“It has been an honor to serve the people of Anderson, Shelby and Spencer counties as a district judge for over sixteen years, but health issues make it impossible for me to continue,” she said. “It is time for me to hang up the robe and concentrate on my health and my family. This has been a tough decision, and a lot of tears have fallen in the past few weeks. But the closer my retirement date has gotten, the more at peace I am with it.”
While the mood of the party was lighthearted, Shelby Circuit Clerk Lowery Miller noted that Armstrong’s presence would be greatly missed, and not just in the courtroom.
“It’s just a bittersweet feeling around here today,” he said. “We’re happy for her because she’s able to retire and do what she wants to do, but we’ll miss her. She’s been a big help to me, especially, helping me learn my job, and giving me advice.”
Dozens come to say good-bye
Fellow Shelby District Judge Donna Dutton said she would miss the camaraderie that she and Armstrong built over nearly a decade working together.
“We have a great working relationship,” she said, glancing over at Armstrong, whom she had just presented with a small, framed photo of the courthouse as a personal memento. “We always have, for the entire eight years that we have worked together. I will miss her.”
Deputy District Court Clerk Cambridge Kirtley said that he has worked with Armstrong for the past four years, and said he was also going to feel her absence.
“She has been good to work for, and I’m going to miss her,” he said.
Shelby County Attorney Hart Megibben, who prosecutes some cases in district court, said he has enjoyed working with Armstrong and has always appreciated her dedication to the job, as well as her professionalism.
“She [has been] well-informed in making her decisions throughout her career,” he said. “I’m sorry to see her go, but I wish her the best of luck.”
Shelby Circuit Judge Charles Hickman also turned out to say farewell.
“She is a great colleague; she is chief district judge and we often collaborated,” he said. “We had a great working relationship and I am happy for her, but sad at the same time. We’ll sure miss her around here.”
Armstrong reciprocated that sentiment.
“I want to thank all the wonderful people I've had the pleasure of working with, prosecutors, defense attorneys, public defenders, other attorneys and their staffs, pretrial services, CDWs, [court-designated workers], law enforcement officers, jailers and most especially the clerks and deputy clerks and my phenomenal ‘right arm,’ Darlene Amos, who have made it so much easier to do my job,” she said. “I love them all and will miss working with them.”
About her time on the bench, she said, “I have tried to make a difference in people's lives, and I hope that I succeeded in doing that, at least some of the time.”
The reception was held shortly before noon, to give the other judges, who had light dockets that day, a chance to attend.
Filling the seat
Miller said there will likely not be many more light days, at least until another judge is appointed. That job falls to Gov. Steve Beshear, who would act on a recommendation from Supreme Court Justice John D. Minton Jr,, and that is only if they decide to do anything before the November election.
“They still haven’t put anybody in permanently to take her place,” he said. “They’re filling in with senior judges, just through April,” he said. “We’re just waiting to hear from the AOC [Administrative Office of the Courts] about when he [Minton] will make the [recommendation] on whether to put a permanent one in or [appoint] somebody to fill the rest of the year or what. The senior judges are coming in, so we’re covered throughout the month of April. They haven’t given us a schedule for May yet.”
Miller said that another option that has been discussed is giving Dutton, the only district judge sitting now in Shelby, a heavier docket if the senior judges are not able to continue to help out to the extent needed.
“They might do that, that’s something they’ve done before with others,” he said. “That hasn’t been decided yet.”
Jamie Neal, public information specialist for the AOC, said some judges in surrounding counties might be able to help out as well.
“Sitting judges and senior status judges are scheduled to help cover district court cases in Anderson, Shelby and Spencer counties following Judge Armstrong’s retirement,” she said. “Judges are set to fill the vacancy through April and some days in May.”
Currently, there are seven senior judges serving Kentucky.