FRANKFORT, Ky., March 25, 2019 – The Judicial Nominating Commission, led by Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr., today announced nominees to fill the vacant Family Court judicial seat for Pike County. Pike composes the 35th Judicial Circuit and the vacancy is in the circuit’s Division 3.
The three nominees for the Family Court judgeship are attorneys Robert Lee Chaney, Rachel Wagner Kennedy and Wesley Kent Varney, all of Pikeville.
Chaney has a general law practice and mainly handles family and criminal law cases. He received his juris doctor from Ohio Northern University Claude W. Pettit College of Law.
Kennedy is an attorney with Jones & Walters law firm and primarily handles workers’ compensation cases. She received her juris doctor from the University of Kentucky College of Law.
Varney is a sole practitioner with a primary focus on criminal defense. He earned his juris doctor from Ohio Northern University Claude W. Pettit College of Law.
The judicial seat became vacant when Judge Larry E. Thompson was elected to the Kentucky Court of Appeals in November 2018.
Family Court is a division of Circuit Court and has primary jurisdiction in cases involving family issues, including divorces, adoption, child support, domestic violence and juvenile status offenses.
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.