By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
It was probably the least surprising news in recent Kentucky politics but a judicial nominating committee Thursday named David Williams as one of three nominees for a vacant judgeship in the 40th Circuit.
The seven-member committee also nominated Angela Capps, a public defender, and retired district court judge Stephen Douglas Hurt.
The three names now go to Gov. Steve Beshear who will name one of the nominees to fulfill the unexpired term of Judge Eddie Lovelace who died several weeks ago. The circuit serves Cumberland, Clinton and Monroe counties.
“I am appreciative of the nomination and if the Governor appoints me, I will accept the position,” said Williams in a statement released by his Senate office.
Williams has been a political nemesis for Beshear who blames the Republican Senate President for blocking his legislative priority of expanded gambling. The two men have barely disguised their mutual disdain and Beshear routed Williams by 22 points in the 2011 governor’s race.
Nevertheless, Beshear has said he considers Williams qualified for the position and will consider appointing any nominee presented him by the nominating commission.
If Williams is named to the position and serves for three years or more, he can use the higher judicial salary to calculate his state pension benefits based on his total years of service in both the legislature and on the bench. That would significantly increase his retirement benefits.
Whoever is named, the new judge won’t have to run for re-election for two years.
Beshear has 60 days to announce his decision. His spokeswoman, Kerri Richardson, said the governor’s office received the nominations but would make no announcement Thursday.
While the governor has two months to make the appointment, he faces pressure from multiple directions on the timing of his decision. Democrats in the state House would prefer Beshear to wait until after the Nov. 6 election to name Williams so they can try to make him an election in their races – even though Williams isn’t on this year’s ballot and doesn’t affect the leadership or decisions in the House which is currently controlled by Democrats.
But the annual Kentucky Circuit Judges College is set to begin Monday and run through Oct. 31. That is an annual training and continuing education program operated by the Administrative Office of the Courts and would be useful to someone about to begin service on the bench.
The speculation about the departure of Williams from the Senate has also set off maneuvering by his Republican colleagues for leadership positions and ultimately for someone to succeed him as Senate President.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.