November 3, 2014

David Williams expected to win judgeship race

(This story ran in Kentucky Roll Call, Oct. 31, 2014) 
Former Senate President David L. Williams was appointed to the bench two years ago by Gov. Steve Beshear, to fill an unexpired term of the late Circuit Judge Eddie Lovelace, of Albany. Williams is running for election to a full eight-year term against retired District Judge Steve Hurt, of Burkesville, Williams’ hometown. In fact, Williams and Hurt were classmates in high school, graduating the same year.

This is a “fairly heated” race and Judge Williams is expected to win. The jurisdiction contains Clinton, Cumberland and Monroe counties. The judicial community in the district (attorneys and court staff), if conventional wisdom is gauging it right, is rallying behind Williams.

Williams, 61, has run for seven different offices throughout his rather short public career — county judge-executive, commonwealth attorney, state House and Senate, US Senate and governor — and this will be his first race to win, other than both chambers of the General Assembly. A source said Williams is strong in Clinton County and “that should clinch it” for him. 

High school classmates aside, this is not a friendly race. Williams is hitting Hurt hard in ads on double-dipping: Hurt retired from the bench to take senior judge status, which enhanced his pension by hundreds of thousands of dollars (the average is about $1 million) by enriching the formula used to calculate judicial pensions.

Williams is making an issue, however, not on the size of Hurt’s pension but on the fact he’s trying to come out of retirement for a government pay check on top of his pension. Hurt is not firing back that Williams will get an enhanced legislative pension based on his pay as a judge. 

Hurt is mad at Williams over a bill in the legislature that died when Williams was president of the Senate. The bill would have extended the Senior Judge Status program, but it died in the House, in effect, sunseting the program — but not before Hurt boarded that gravy train. 

Actually, the House Democratic caucus killed the bill; it wasn’t Williams who did it. But apparently Hurt thinks Williams didn’t try hard enough to save it, and, seemingly, he is holding a grudge against Williams over it. Some local folks are calling this a race for “judge” and a race for “grudge.”