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Kentucky Voters Reject Longer Judiciary, Commonwealth's Attorney Terms

Some judges are releasing young people facing charges to protect them from the spread of COVID-19.
Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron
A gavel rests inside the court room of the 100th Air Refueling Wing base legal office at RAF Mildenhall, England, May 28, 2019. The attorneys in the legal office offer commanders legal advice and also provide services like notaries, power of attorneys, wills and legal assistance to Team Mildenhall. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

Unofficial general election results show Kentucky voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to raise experience requirements and term lengths for some judicial officials.

Under the current version of the state constitution, district court judges serve four-year terms and an attorney must hold Kentucky licensure for two years before seeking a district court judgeship. Constitutional Amendment Two would have doubled the term length to eight years, and increased the experience requirement to eight years. The amendment would have also increased the terms of commonwealth’s attorneys (felony prosecutors in each judicial circuit) from four to eight years.

By a margin of more than two-to-one according to preliminary results, voters in the commonwealth did not want to “raise the bar” of term lengths and experience requirements. Judge Foster Cotthoff is a district court judge in Christian County and the president of the Kentucky District Judges Association, which advocated on behalf of the amendment. Cotthoff said the current political environment made an amendment like this difficult to pass.

“We haven’t been able to do any polling or anything like that, so we really didn’t know what was going to happen. But it just appears from the vote totals that were pretty consistent across the state that people were not in favor of extending any term of office in the current climate,” Cotthoff said.

The Kentucky General Assembly must approve all prospective amendments to the state constitution before they are placed on the November ballot. Cotthoff said he doesn’t expect legislators to make a second attempt at the judicial reform measure.

“I don’t see it coming up any time soon,” he said. “It wasn’t that close, to be honest. I just think right now...politically and with what’s going on in Kentucky, it’s just tough.”

Cotthoff said he appreciates the legislators who voted in favor of the amendment earlier this year. He said many district court judges are disappointed at the outcome of the vote, but will continue to work effectively within their four-year term limits.

Kate Howard is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

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