Sunday, August 13, 2000

New judges coming to town

U.S. District Judge Bertelsman semi-retiring

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Some new faces are hanging around the federal courtrooms, and U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman doesn't mind.

        They belong to his fellow Eastern District of Kentucky judges, who are assuming most of his criminal docket as he prepares for semi-retirement.

        The 64-year-old judge, appointed by President Carter in 1979, will take “senior status” in 2001. He made his plans official to a gathering of attorneys last year, urging them to make sure another Northern Kentuckian replaces him.

        Judge Bertelsman, a Republican, was Northern Kentucky's first federal judge. He had been a Fort Thomas attorney. His father was a Campbell County Judge.

        Among Judge Bertelsman's most noteworthy cases:

        • The 1988 Ashland Oil Co. trial. The jury ruled that the company had bribed foreign officials, which ultimately resulted in the illegal dismissals of some company vice presidents in 1983. Testimony touched on sultans, sheiks and the oil crisis. Jurors ordered the company and some of its former and current officers to pay $69 million.

        • In 1994 age-discrimination rulings, the judge ordered Kentucky State Police to provide at least $8 million in back pay to 62 officers forced to retire at age 55 between April 1978 and December 1986. The decision was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati.

        • In December 1998, the judge said Grant County High School students Somer Chipman Hurston and Chasity Glass were entitled to full National Honor Society membership while their lawsuit against the school district was pending. The young moms claimed they were refused honor society admission because they had become pregnant. The case ultimately was settled.

        It may take until 2005 for a successor for Judge Bertelsman to be appointed, he said. U.S. Magistrate Gregory Wehrman and Kenton Circuit Judge Gret Bartlett have stated interest in succeeding him.

        In the meantime, he and his fellow district judges began hatching a plan last month to handle his semi-retirement.

        U.S. District judges Henry Wilhoit of Ashland, Karl Forester of Lexington, Joseph Hood of Frankfort and Jennifer Coffman of London will divide his criminal cases.

        Judge Bertelsman continues to handle civil cases which, he said, tend to be more complicated and difficult for a fresh judge to take on. He will see the civil suits filed through 2000 to the end.

        In January, he will take half of the new civil suits, while the other four judges will split the remaining new cases.

        “I'm too young to completely retire,” the judge said jokingly.

        The other district judges began presiding over Covington proceedings soon after the plan was solidified.

        Judge Bertelsman said it most likely will create a burden on the other judges but it was the best transition for his semi-retirement period.

        Here are details about the visiting judges:

        • Henry Wilhoit, 65, of Ashland. President Reagan appointed him in 1981. Judge Wilhoit had served as a private attorney, Grayson city attorney and Carter County attorney after graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Law. He has served as the eastern district's chief judge for two years.

        • Karl Forester, 60, of Lexington. President Reagan appointed the UK law graduate in 1988. He had been in private practice since 1966.

        • Joseph Hood, 57, of Frankfort. President Bush appointed him in 1990. The UK law graduate had served as a federal law clerk and federal magistrate judge before the appointment.

        • Jennifer Coffman, 52, of London. President Clinton appointed the UK law graduate in 1993. Kentucky's first female federal judge had served in private practice and as a UK law professor.


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