Sunday, October 22, 2000

5th district race easy to miss

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Like the ballot section for the Kentucky Supreme Court race in the 5th District, the race itself is easy to overlook.

        In the 11 counties of the district, mostly surrounding Lexington in central Kentucky, the Supreme Court section is on the far right side of the ballot, just above the two constitutional amendments.

        Restricted by rules of conduct for judicial candidates, ignored by probably half the people who will vote on Nov. 7 and overwhelmed by television and radio advertisements for the dozens of boisterous campaigns elsewhere on the ballot, James Keller and Larry Forgy quietly try to persuade voters to pay attention.

        Mr. Forgy has been at tending public events from fairs to football games, civic clubs and socials. Mr. Keller has been speaking at schools, civic clubs and occasionally running TV commercials.

        Judicial rules of conduct generally restrict a candidate to talking about his experience and qualifications. That all but eliminates any sort of discussion of the important topics that will come before the court, from taxa tion questions to literally those of life and death in capital punishment cases.

        Despite the obscurity of the race, both men are relatively well-known even if only within their small circles.

        Mr. Forgy, 61, has been a veteran Republican Party campaigner, considered a golden boy from his service in the Louie Nunn administration in the late 1960s. He lost two gubernatorial campaigns, the last in 1995 to Paul Patton by a narrow margin.

        Mr. Keller, 58, spent 22 years as a circuit court judge in Fayette County before he was appointed to a vacancy on the Supreme Court in 1999 then won a special election to keep it. The people who know him best as a judge are the attorneys who have practiced before him, Mr. Keller said.

        Those attorneys, in a survey conducted by the Fayette County Bar Association, overwhelmingly said Mr. Keller would be more judicious, fair and diligent as a justice than Mr. Forgy.

        The survey has become one of the few real points of contention.

        “The lawyers shouldn't name the judges,” Mr. Forgy said.

        Mr. Forgy said his own relationships with organizations and causes outside the courtroom are his best recommendations. Mr. Forgy has a list of about 20 such associations, from burley tobacco to Georgetown College and the Boy Scouts, that he rattles off.

        Mr. Keller's counter is that judicial experience is what counts, including his own year on the Supreme Court. “People don't realize the importance of their judges,” Mr. Keller said.

        The court does not try cases but only hears appeals. The court also sets broad policy for the lower court judges. There are seven justices.

        The race is the only one for the Supreme Court this year, and is for an eight-year term with a salary this year of $114,373.


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