Thursday, January 18, 2001

E. Ky. gets new judgeship; vacancies mount

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Eight years ago, the administrative offices of the federal courts determined that the Eastern District of Kentucky needed an additional judge.

        In late December the new judgeship was created, a legacy of a sort from the last days of U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers' tenure as chairman of the subcommittee that oversees appropriations to the judiciary.

        “It's something that I had wanted to do for some time and just never had the right opportunity,” Mr. Rogers said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “And the right opportunity came along in the middle of the night and it came to pass.”

        Now retirements from active duty by judges in the district have made the crush of business even greater.

        “We're as busy as we can be right now,” said Karl S. Forester, chief judge of the district, which roughly covers the eastern half of the state.

        Former Chief Judge Henry Wil hoit has already taken senior status, which means he is in semiretirement and not taking a full case load. Judge William O. Bertelsman will be taking senior status this month, leaving only Judges Forester and Joseph M. Hood. Judge Jennifer Coffman splits her time between the Western and Eastern districts.

        “She's what they call a swing judge and there aren't many of those left in the country,” Judge Forester said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

        Judge Forester said he was op timistic the three vacancies could be filled relatively soon, unlike some previous years when judicial appointments got caught up in political battles between the president, who makes the nominations, and the Senate, which must approve them.

        With President-elect Bush and Kentucky's two senators, Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning, all Republicans, some of the partisan squabbling should disappear.

        Judge Forester said he is hopeful all the vacancies can be filled by fall.

        “Really, when you have two senators of a state in agreement, it doesn't take as long as it might otherwise take,” Judge Forester said.

        Two candidates already appear to be front-runners.

        One is Karen Caldwell, a former U.S. attorney in the Eastern district who is now in private legal practice in Lexington. Ms. Caldwell, though relatively young and inexperienced at the time, got high marks for her oversight of the prosecution of the corruption scandal in the Kentucky General Assembly known as Operation Boptrot.

        The other likely nominee is David Bunning, an assistant U.S. attorney for the last 10 years who is the son of Sen. Bunning.

        Others mentioned as possible candidates are Fayette Circuit Judge Laurence VanMeter; Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Hatfield, who is based in London; David Stratton, an attorney in private practice in Pikeville; and Mark Goss, an attorney in Harlan.


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