Three nominated for district judge vacancy

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Armstrong’s seat to be filled within 60 days

By Lisa King

Three attorneys, all of them with county attorney experience, have been nominated to fill a seat left vacant by a Shelby County District Judge who retired in March.

The Administrative Office of the Courts has announced that Robert Coots and Ruth Ann Hollan, both of Spencer County, and Betty Springate of Lawrenceburg, have been chosen as potential candidates to fill the spot left vacant when District Judge Linda Armstrong retired March 16.

Leigh Anne Hiatt, spokesperson for the AOC, said that the Judicial Nominating Commission, led by Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr., made the announcement Wednesday of nominees to fill the vacant District Court judgeship for Anderson, Shelby and Spencer counties. The counties compose the 53rd Judicial District and the open seat is in the district’s 1st Division.

Coots, a former Spencer County attorney, practices law with the Coots Law Office in Taylorsville. He earned a law degree from the University of Kentucky College of Law.

Hollan has served as the county attorney for Spencer County since 2003. She holds a law degree from the University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law.

Springate most recently served as assistant county attorney and county attorney for Anderson County and received her law degree from the University of Baltimore School of Law.

Whoever is selected will serve through the end of the year.

J.R. RoBards, a Shelbyville attorney, and Laura Donnell, the Shelby County commonwealth attorney, are running for Division I judge with the general election in November.

The appointee will finish the year before the newly elected judge takes over.

Hiatt said that the decision was made not to wait until the newly elected judge takes office in January because the vacancy has been creating a hardship on sitting judges.

“Due to a shortage of available sitting and senior status judges, it was becoming difficult to cover this vacancy,” she said. “The decision was made to appoint a judge to handle the caseload until this seat could be filled by election.”

Shelby Circuit Clerk Lowry Miller said was glad to hear of the nominations.

“It will get things back to being less spread out,” he said. “Judge [Donna] Dutton has doubled up her load and has done quite the job to carry as much as she can, but it will help things to move a little bit smoother for all of us, as busy as this district is,” he said.


Selecting nominees

When a judicial vacancy occurs, the executive secretary of the Judicial Nominating Commissionpublishes a notice of vacancy in the judicial circuit or the judicial district affected. Attorneys may recommend someone or nominate themselves. The names of the applicants are not released. Once nominations occur, the individuals interested in the position return a questionnaire to the Office of the Chief Justice.

Chief Justice Minton then meets with the Judicial Nominating Commission to choose three nominees. Because the Kentucky Constitution requires that three names be submitted to the governor, in some cases the commission submits an attorney’s name even though the attorney did not apply. A letter naming the three nominees is then sent to Gov. Steve Beshear for review. The governor has 60 days to appoint a replacement, and his office makes the announcement, Hiatt said.


The nominees

Of the three, Hollan is still a practicing county attorney. A Beattyville native, she is in her 12th year as county attorney in Spencer County.

She said she was surprised and pleased to hear the news that she had been nominated.

“I flew in from Florida from a much needed vacation, flew back into Lexington and get a phone call in the airport from Justice Minton saying, ‘Your interview went so well, we just submitted your name,’” she said.

Hollan said she applied for the seat because she believes her experience as county attorney is a good preparation for district judge.

“During my eleven-plus years in office here, I have been before a variety of different district court judges, and with Judge Armstrong’s absence, we’ve had a lot of different judges, and so I’ve had the pleasure of being before a lot of different types of district judges,” she said. “So I think I have been able to take away some really good points and learned a lot from them, and I think I could bring that to the bench. Also, I’ve been in court four of out five days in the week, so I’ve had plenty of court experience in the last twelve years.”

Coots, a Spencer County native who was Spencer County attorney for 25 years, until he lost to Hollan in 2002, said the same concerning his experience.

“Based on my 25 years in district court, I felt it was something I would be comfortable in doing,” he said.

Springate, a Jefferson County native and retired Anderson County attorney, is the only one who did not apply.

“I was nominated,” she said.

“I was county attorney here for two terms and one of those was a five-year term, so I was county attorney for nine years and the eight years before that, I was assistant county attorney, so I pretty much lived in district court for several years,” she said. “I’m very familiar with how it works.”