The creation of family courts in counties throughout Kentucky undoubtedly was the most important judicial advancement since the passage of the Judicial Article more than two decades ago that reformed Kentuckys entire courts system.
Family courts were used experimentally in a few counties in the late 1990s, and the people voted to approve a constitutional amendment establishing family courts in 2002.
One of those experiments went very, very wrong.
A family court was approved as a pilot project in 1999 for Floyd County, with Knott and Magoffin counties included, but both counties agreed to give up temporarily the right to vote for the family court judge. Only Floyd County voters were allowed to cast ballots, and only Floyd County candidates were allowed to seek the office.
When the family court amendment was drafted, no one apparently thought to correct the temporary exclusion of Knott and Magoffin counties from voting on the judgeship. The amendment locked in that temporary experiment.
That situation continues to exist today seven years after the Floyd County family court was created.
It is understandable that officials and citizens in Knott and Magoffin counties are upset at being disenfranchised from electing their family court judge. It is, in fact, a shocking lapse that raises all kinds of constitutional issues. Can a courts authority extend beyond the boundaries of the district that elects that courts judge? Can the people of Knott and Magoffin counties refuse to abide by the rulings of a judge they are specifically forbidden from voting for or against in an election?
There are circumstances, of course, when a locally-elected judge recuses himself from a case and a special judge is named, or when retired senior judges are sent into a jurisdiction for special purposes. But those cases are rare. To disenfranchise permanently thousands of people subject to a courts jurisdiction is about as undemocratic as we can imagine.
Gov. Ernie Fletcher should include in his call for a special session later this month or in June an item creating a separate family court in Knott and Magoffin counties and establish a timetable for the people of those two counties at last to elect their own family court judge.
Its about four years late as it is.