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How Does the Kentucky Court of Appeals Work?

The Kentucky Court of Appeals is the intermediate appellate court in the state of Kentucky. Before the amendment of the constitution in 1975, which created the Kentucky Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals was the only existing appellate court in the state.

The court hears, reviews, and provides swift, fair, and unbiased rulings to the appeals brought from the state’s trial courts. However, cases involving life imprisonment, death sentences, and imprisonment exceeding 20 years are not reviewed in the Kentucky Court of Appeal. Instead, these cases are directly appealed to the Kentucky Supreme court.

The party who files for an appeal must provide evidence to show that the trial court made a legal error that influenced the case’s outcomes. Usually, the cases brought from these lower courts are not retried; instead, the original trial is reviewed while the representing attorneys present the legal issues involved to make a decision.

According to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, except certain criminal cases, child custody cases, and property rights rulings in divorce cases, the Kentucky Court of Appeals may preside over every other appeal originating from the Kentucky Circuit Courts and the Kentucky District Courts.

Under Section 111 of the Commonwealth of Kentucky Constitution, the Kentucky Court of Appeal may review the decisions of the state’s administrative agencies if authorized by the Supreme Court. The court may also issue all the necessary writs needed to aid its appellate jurisdiction or complete determination of any cause under and within its powers.

The Court of Appeals is made up of 14 judges who serve eight-year terms in office, with two judges each being selected from the seven different Supreme Court districts. The General Assembly subsequently determines the number of judges from time to time when the Supreme Court deems it necessary. The chosen judges afterward select one person to serve as the Chief Judge for four years.

Elections of judges used to be based on a partisan ballot. But following Section 117 of the Kentucky Constitution, all judicial elections in Kentucky are now nonpartisan. For a person to serve on the Kentucky Court of Appeals as a judge, the individual must:

  • Be a citizen of the United States.
  • Have been a licensed attorney for nothing less than eight years
  • Have been licensed to practice law in the courts of Kentucky
  • Have been a state resident of Kentucky and the district for at least two years before the election

The Chief Judge of the Kentucky Court of Appeals exercises authority and performs duties in the court’s administration as are prescribed by the constitution or as may be dictated by the Supreme Court. The Chief Judge is given jurisdiction to handle:

  • The assignment of judges to the different panels
  • The designation of cases to the different panels
  • The supervision of court staff

Although the court has its headquarters in Frankfort, which is in the state capital, it hears cases in three-judge panels. According to Section 111 of the Kentucky Constitution, the Court of Appeal divides itself into panels consisting of not less than three judges. The three-judge panel hears cases in the courtrooms around the state and decides a cause based on the majority of its judges’ concurring vote.

The Membership of this panel rotates to ensure that all the judges sit on at least one panel with their other colleagues yearly. One judge is usually chosen and given the power to spearhead the majority opinion for each panel in any given case.

The Chief Judge is in charge of assigning judges to the different panels and specifying the cases that such panels handle. Every year, the Court of Appeal prescribes the places and times in the state where each panel may sit.

With exception to the Chief Judge, Section 119 of the Kentucky Constitution prescribes that Judges of the court of appeal be appointed to an eight-year term in office. Judges may be retired due to disability or where there is a good cause. Kentucky Court of Appeals Judges may also be suspended without provision for payment. Likewise, judges may be convicted by a two-thirds vote by the Kentucky Senate and impeached by the Kentucky House of Representatives.

The removal or retirement of judges is carried out by a commission. This commission is made up of one judge of the Court of Appeals, one circuit judge, one district judge, one member of the Kentucky Bar Association, and two non-members appointed by the Governor.

The Governor fills any vacancy that arises in a judge’s office by appointing anyone fit from a list of three names. This list is usually given by the judicial nominating commission responsible for the Court of Appeals. If the Governor does not appoint anyone from the given list within 60 days from the day the list was presented, the Chief Justice may then go ahead to make the appointment from the same list.

The different courts all have one judicial nominating commission. The judicial nominating commission in charge of the Kentucky Court of Appeals consists of seven members with the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice acting as the chairman.

Out of the seven members, two are to be members of the bar. The other members of the bar usually elect these two persons. The remaining four members are appointed by the Governor from persons who do not belong to the bar. These four persons must also include not less than two members of each of the two political parties in Kentucky having the largest voters.

Asides from the judges, the Court of Appeals may appoint a court clerk to serve as it determines.

Although judges hear cases in different panels existing in the state, the Kentucky Court of Appeals has its headquarters in the state capital. The Kentucky Court of Appeals has its courtroom located at:

Kentucky Court of Appeals
360 Democrat Drive
Frankfort, KY 40601
Phone: 502–573–7920

Under the Kentucky Open Records Act of 1976, court records are public records. According to the law, any person may inspect and make copies of public records. Note, a person also includes corporations, societies, and communities.

Kentucky Court of Appeals’ case records are only considered private if such documents have been made confidential by statute or if a judge ordered to have it sealed. Parties requesting the case records are only required to provide valid reasons for such requests.

Parties can access the Kentucky Court of Appeals case records at the Kentucky Court of Appeals’ Clerk. The office of the Clerk of the Court may also be contacted through this number: 502–573–7920.

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