Judicial Nominating Commission announces nominees for Court of Appeals judgeship

FRANKFORT, Ky., Dec. 18, 2017 – The Judicial Nominating Commission, led by Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr., today announced nominees to fill an upcoming vacancy on the Court of Appeals. The vacancy is in the 7th Appellate District, 2nd Division. The district is composed of 22 Eastern Kentucky counties.  

The three nominees for the Court of Appeals judgeship are attorneys Gene Smallwood Jr. of Whitesburg, Jimmie Garner Vanover of Prestonsburg and Marcia Lynn Wireman of Jackson. They each received their juris doctor from the University of Kentucky College of Law.

Smallwood has been in private practice focusing on civil litigation for 40 years and has served as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney for Letcher County since 2016.
Vanover is a partner in the law firm of Vanover, Hall & Bartley, and has been in civil practice for 32 years. He has served as an assistant county attorney for Floyd County since 2014.  
Wireman is a member of the board of directors for Kentucky Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company and has represented insurance companies for 30 years. She serves as a trial commissioner and master commissioner for Breathitt County.

The judicial seat will become vacant when Judge Janet L. Stumbo retires Dec. 31.

The 7th Appellate District comprises the counties of Boyd, Breathitt, Carter, Elliott, Floyd, Greenup, Harlan, Johnson, Knott, Lawrence, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, Menifee, Montgomery, Morgan, Owsley, Perry, Pike, Powell, Rowan and Wolfe.

Court of Appeals
Nearly all cases heard by the Kentucky Court of Appeals come to it on appeal from a lower court. If a case is tried in Circuit Court or District Court and the losing parties involved are not satisfied with the outcome, they may ask for a higher court to review the correctness of the trial court’s decision. Some cases, such as criminal case acquittals and divorces, may not be appealed. In a divorce case, however, child custody and property rights decisions may be appealed. Cases are not retried in the Court of Appeals. Only the record of the original court trial is reviewed, with attorneys presenting the legal issues to the court for a decision.

Fourteen judges, two elected from seven appellate court districts, serve on the Court of Appeals. The judges are divided into panels of three to review and decide cases, with the majority determining the decision. The panels do not sit permanently in one location, but travel throughout the state to hear cases.

Judicial Nominating Commission
The Judicial Nominating Commission helps fill judicial vacancies by appointment when a vacancy occurs outside of the election cycle. The Kentucky Constitution established the JNC. Ky. Const. § 118; SCR 6.000, et seq.

Judicial Nominating Process
When a judicial vacancy occurs, the executive secretary of the JNC publishes 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 sent to the governor for review. The governor has 60 days to appoint a replacement and his office makes the announcement.

Makeup of the Judicial Nominating Commission
The commission has seven members. The membership is comprised of the chief justice of Kentucky (who also serves as chair), two lawyers elected by all the lawyers in their circuit/district and four Kentucky citizens who are appointed by the governor. The four citizens appointed by the governor must equally represent the two major political parties, so two must be Democrats and two must be Republicans. It is the responsibility of the commission to submit a list of three names to the governor and the governor must appoint a judge from this list of three.

Administrative Office of the Courts
The Administrative Office of the Courts in Frankfort is the operations arm for the state court system. The AOC supports the activities of nearly 3,400 court system employees and 404 elected justices, judges and circuit court clerks. As the fiscal agent for the state court system, the AOC executes the Judicial Branch budget.



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