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How Does the Kentucky Circuit Court Work?

The Kentucky Circuit Court is a trial court of general jurisdiction and has original jurisdiction over all cases not exclusively vested in some other court. The court also has appellate jurisdiction to hear some cases from the Kentucky District Court and administrative agencies. The Kentucky Circuit Court hears civil cases that involve more than $5,000, felonies and capital offenses, contested probate cases, and land dispute title cases. It also has the power to issue writs of prohibition, injunctions, and writs of mandamus.

The Kentucky Supreme Court may designate one or more of the Circuit Court divisions in a judicial circuit as a family court division, which retains the Circuit Court’s general jurisdiction. Still, it has additional jurisdiction over cases like child custody, divorce, child support, paternity, termination of parental rights, adoption, child neglect, domestic violence, and child abuse.

The Circuit Courts Family Court division also shares jurisdiction over certain types of cases with the District Courts. If a judicial circuit establishes a family court division, the domestic relations commissioner’s role is eliminated. No commissioner is appointed to hear or determine any matter that the family court has jurisdiction over.

The State of Kentucky comprises 57 judicial circuits, with not less than two courts in each circuit. The number of circuit judges varies in each judicial circuit, and although every circuit must have at least one circuit judge, some circuits have as many as twenty-three judges.

The number of judges generally determines the number of divisions a Kentucky Circuit Court has. The General Assembly has the power to change the number of circuit judges in a judicial circuit. To do this, the General Assembly must get certification from the Kentucky Supreme Court to show its necessity.

Where a Kentucky judicial circuit has only one circuit judge, that judge is the chief judge. On the other hand, if the judicial circuit has two judges, both judges select the chief judge. If the judges fail to do that within a reasonable time, the Kentucky Supreme Court designates the chief judge.

The Kentucky Circuit Court judges are elected from the respective circuits on a nonpartisan basis. The judges hold office for a term of eight years. A circuit judge may be suspended without pay or retired for disability or removed for a good cause.

The commission comprises one Court of Appeals judge, one circuit judge, one district judge, one member of the State bar, and two persons appointed by the Governor. The retirement commission holds office for four years, and all its actions are subject to judicial review by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

To be eligible to serve as a Kentucky Circuit Court judge, a person must

  • Be a citizen of the United States
  • Be licensed to practice law in Kentucky
  • Have been residing in the State for at least two years
  • Have been a licensed attorney for at least eight years

During the term of office, the circuit judge is not allowed to practice law, or run for a non-judicial elective office, or hold office in a political party or organization. If, for any reason, there is a vacancy in the office of a Kentucky circuit court judge, the Governor appoints a person to fill the vacancy. The Governor selects the temporary judge from a list of three names submitted by the appropriate judicial nominating commission.

If the Governor does not appoint the judge within sixty days, the Kentucky Supreme Court’s chief justice makes the appointment from the same list. Each judicial circuit has one judicial nominating commission. The commission consists of seven members, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who is the chairman, two members of the bar appointed by other members, and four persons appointed by the Governor.

The persons appointed by the Governor include two members of each of the two political parties of the State having the largest number of voters. The members of this judicial nominating commission must reside in the respective circuit. Anyone who holds a public office or an office in a political party or organization may not be appointed as a member. The Kentucky General Assembly fixes the terms of office of the members.

The Kentucky Circuit Court has a clerk who serves as the Circuit Court and the District Court clerk. The clerk may hire and dismiss deputies and other employees of the office of the clerk. The clerk has these duties:

  • To administer oaths, in or outside the court
  • Take affidavits permitted or requested in the process of a court proceeding
  • Maintaining all files, records, dockets, and indexes
  • Collecting all the fines and forfeitures imposed on the Circuit Court. Note, the Kentucky Supreme Court sets the filing fees and all miscellaneous costs for civil matters filed in the Circuit Court

Every Kentucky circuit court clerk must complete an initial training course after assuming office. The training is provided by the Administrative Office of the Courts, under the Supreme Court’s directions. The training occurs every two years and is developed after consulting legal, victim advocacy, victims services, and mental health professionals with domestic violence expertise.

In the training course, the clerks and deputy clerks learn about the dynamics of domestic violence, impacts of domestic violence on adult and child victims, legal solutions for protection, lethality and risk matters, model protocols to address domestic violence, attainable community resources, and victims services, etc.

Interested persons may obtain Kentucky Circuit Court records from the Kentucky Court of Justice website. Users may search for a case by party, case number, or by citation. If searching for the case by case number, select the relevant county, and enter the case number. On the other hand, if searching by citation, provide the year, control number, and type. Users searching for a case by a party must furnish at least any of the following combinations:

  • Last name and birth date
  • First name and last name
  • Social Security number
  • DLN
  • County and event range

The results that the page provides differ depending on the criteria entered. Whichever way, the case records that match closely the information provided appears at the top of the page. The search result page furnishes a summary of the cases. This includes the names of the parties, the party type, case type, county name, personal identifiers, case number, next court event, if applicable, and case title.

For a more comprehensive case record or a certified copy of a Kentucky Circuit Court record, visit the office of the Clerk of Court of the relevant county. To find the Court Clerk’s contact information and address, visit the Kentucky Court of Justice website. Select the applicable county, and the contact details pop up on the page.

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