Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Kentucky Supreme Court

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The Jefferson County District Court Judges and Trial Commissioners petitioned the Supreme Court to review Judicial Ethics Opinion JE-212, in which the Ethics Committee of the Kentucky Judiciary determined that a judge's staff attorney or law clerk could not be appointed to the additional position of trial commissioner even if the time spent in each position would be separately accounted for, or if the staff attorney/law clerk did not work on anything she had worked on as a trial commissioner, and vice versa. The Supreme Court vacated the Opinion, holding (1) in this case there was no violation of the trial commissioner's ethical requirement to give first place to his judicial duties because the position of a trial commissioner is part-time; and (2) although there is a potential appearance of impropriety where a district court trial commissioner also serves as a staff attorney for a court of the same judicial district, the limited situations in which this may arise does not justify the blanket exclusion of all judicial staff attorneys from serving as trial commissioners. View "Dist. Court Judges & Trial Comm'rs v. Ethics Comm." on Justia Law

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Appellants, a group of heirs who were entitled to receive the net proceeds of a judicial sale of four tracts of land, sued Appellees, a former master commissioner of the circuit court, a circuit court judge, and the administrative office of the courts, pursuant to the Kentucky Board of Claims Act, after the former master commissioner failed to disburse the proceeds of the sale. The Board of Claims (Board) entered a final order dismissing Appellants' claims for lack of jurisdiction. The circuit court and court of appeals affirmed. At issue on appeal was whether a claim involving judicial officers or court employes may proceed at the Board. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the judge's continued use of the master commissioner, without reappointment, to perform significant functions in actions in the circuit court without a bond and without surety approved by the judge as statutorily mandated, was grounds for a claim in the Board of Claims based upon alleged negligence in the performance of a ministerial duty by an officer of the state. Remanded to the Board for a determination of whether Appellants suffered damages as a proximate cause of the alleged negligence.

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Roger Elliott, who served as a district court judge for almost twenty-five years and who was a member of the Senior Status Judge Program, was indicted on one count of theft of labor already rendered. Elliott entered an Alford plea to the charge. The circuit court entered an order granting Elliott a pretrial diversion. The judicial conduct commission then issued an order of public reprimand. As a condition of the reprimand, Elliott agreed to resign from the judge program and not seek to re-enter it. As a follow-up to resolve the temporary suspension of his bar license, Elliott and the office of bar counsel agreed to a negotiated sanction. Elliott requested that the Supreme Court enter an order suspending him from the practice of law for two years with one year probated and one year to serve, effective from the date of the order, on conditions that Elliott continue compliance with the terms and provisions of his pretrial diversion contract and that he incur no new disciplinary charges during the probationary period. The Court concluded that the sanctions were appropriate.