by Chris Mayhew , email@example.com –
Parents arguing for child visitation rights in Boone and Kenton counties have to wait about four months before a judge hears their case.
Shorter wait times for Northern Kentucky non-emergency family court cases will come if Kentucky lawmakers approve Kentucky’s first attempt at statewide judicial redistricting in 100 years.
Looking parents in the eye and telling them it’s four months before they can go before a judge to petition to see their child is tough, Covington-based family law attorney Carol L. Risk said.
“That’s time they can’t buy back with their children,” Risk said.
Redistricting would benefit Boone, Kenton
Wait times for routine family court case scheduling will likely decrease if Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr.’s plan for redistricting is approved.
On Feb. 7, Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, will file Senate Bill 9 when Kentucky General Assembly lawmakers reconvene in session.
Schickel has either authored or supported bills to reorganize Kentucky court districts each of the past five years.
Boone and Kenton counties will each receive an additional family court judge under Minton’s plan.
Boone County will benefit additionally by Gallatin County court cases being shifted out of the 54th Judicial Circuit district. Boone will then have a court district to itself just like Kenton and Campbell counties. Campbell County’s courts will not be changed under Chief Justice Minton’s plan.
“Our current plan does not provide equal access to the law and justice,” Schickel said.
Under the new plan, Boone and Kenton counties will each get another family court judge. Gallatin County will be carved away from Boone County’s 54th judicial district under the plan. Boone County will become a court district unto itself for the first time ever.
Kentucky hasn’t had statewide judicial redistricting in 100 years, Schickel said. In Boone and Kenton counties the last changes to judicial districts was in 1975 when judicial reform directly unified all Kentucky courts. Part of the 1975 Kentucky law approved by voters stripped all judicial roles from elected county judge-executives. Judge-executives remain elected as the top administrator or CEO of county government.
“Redistricting has been long overdue,” retired Boone Circuit Judge Anthony Frohlich said. Retired since 2015, Frohlich was lauded as a “leading judicial innovator in Kentucky,” according to a 2012 Kentucky General Assembly resolution.
“Boone County simply has one judge handling all the caseload,” he said.
Boone Family Court Judge Linda Rae Bramlage handles all family court cases for Boone and Gallatin counties.
Judicial ranks static despite population boom
Since 1970, Boone County’s population has increased by nearly 100,000 people to today’s 127,712 residents, according to census data. Population in 1970 in Boone County was 33,000 people.
Population in urban areas across Kentucky have changed, but judges serving those areas have not been increased to match growth, Frohlich said.
“Something just has to be done, the resources have just got to be allocated a different way,” he said.
Bramlage is actually one of the “most efficient” judges anywhere in holding to a tight schedule, Risk said. There are just too many family court cases for one judge, she said.
“If I were to call today and need any kind of hearing beyond an hour you’re probably looking at April or May,” Risk said. “Depending on what the issue is that may or may not be acceptable.”
Emergency cases including child abuse or if a parent is arrested and in jail are typically heard right away on emergency basis to prevent irreparable harm to children, she said.
Heroin epidemic has strained family courts
Court hearings about requests to increase child support are not routine for single parents when it’s a five-month wait for a decision, Risk said.
“You can’t say to your creditors we’ll pay back in five months,” she said.
In Kenton County, Chief Circuit Judge Patrica Summe is pleased with Kenton County possibly receiving a third family court judge.
Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky’s heroin epidemic has strained family courts, Summe said.
“Drug cases directly impact family court because of the number of parents who are not capable of fulfilling their family obligations,” she said.