Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Ky. district awaits picks for judges


Bush to name appointees for three posts

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — As President-elect Bush prepares his move into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Northern Kentucky's legal community is wondering whom the new president will appoint to three judgeships in the Eastern District of Kentucky.

        U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman of Covington is taking “senior status” Feb. 1, and Henry R. Wilhoit Jr. of Frankfort took it New Year's Eve, prompting two new appointments as those longtime judges move to lighter caseloads. Congress also approved a new judgeship for the district last month.

Bertelsman
Bertelsman
        David Bunning, an assistant U.S. attorney in Covington and son of Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Southgate, is said to be one of the front-runners for the judgeship position, which can have a sway in abortion, racial preferences, posting of the Ten Commandments and other issues.

        Other contenders include U.S. Magistrate Judge Gregory Wehrman, Kenton Circuit Judge Greg Bartlett, former Villa Hills City Attorney Lawson Walker, Covington lawyer Kevin Murphy, Kentucky Appellate Judge R.W. Dyche III, Lexington lawyer Karen Caldwell and Fayette Circuit Judge Laurance VanMeter.

        Most expect that the new judge is bound to reflect Mr. Bush's brand of politics, but say that Mr.Bush, like other presi
dents, will place more stock in nominating the best person for the nonpartisan job.

        “It's my view that an individual judge's personal politics have precious little to do with how he or she decides cases,” said Mark Guilfoyle, a Crestview Hills lawyer who successfully defended Kentucky's 24-hour abortion waiting period law before a federal judge in Louisville last year. “At the end of the day, any president is looking to appoint someone who has the skills and temperament to do what is a very difficult job. (But) certainly, some political considerations are at work” when appointments are made.

        Mr. Bush could take up to four years filling the three judgeships. All federal judicial appointments must be approved by the Senate, which is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

        He already has nominated John Ashcroft, Missouri's former attorney general and governor, to become the nation's attorney general. Mr. Ashcroft is known as a staunch conservative, indicating that Mr. Bush may want federal judicial nominees to be the same.

        “It's really too imponderable to predict,” said Judge Bertelsman, a Republican appointed by President Carter. “I'd like to see them take enough time to get a qualified person.”

        If Mr. Bush appoints a conservative judge to replace Judge Bertelsman, stricter sentences and tighter adherence to the Constitution could become the norm in Northern Kentucky, said Tim Schneider, a Covington lawyer who handles many criminal cases in the federal court system.

        “George Bush is a classic conservative. I'd be surprised if anybody he nominated did not fall along that ideology line,” he said.
       

Many steps to approval

        Once the new president nominates someone, the Senate Judiciary Committee will collect information on that person's education, finances, employment history, speeches and writings.

        The FBI also will conduct a background search before the nominee goes through a commit tee hearing and the appointment goes before the full Senate. The process can take months.

        David Bunning is distinct from the pack of possible judge appointees in two major ways: He prosecutes cases before Judge Bertelsman and his father is a Republican senator.

        Mr. Bunning and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, will play a major role in whom Mr. Bush eventually nominates.

        A spokesman with Mr. Bunning's Washington, D.C., office said it's too soon to talk about the nominations and declined to comment on whether the senator's son is a front runner. David Bunning could not be reached for comment. Greg Shumate, who chaired a group of Kentucky lawyers supporting the Bush-Cheney ticket in the recent election, said the younger Mr. Bunning is an obvious choice because of his experience as a federal prosecutor and reputation for having a good temperament.

        Who his father is shouldn't make a difference, he said.

        “David Bunning clearly would have a political advantage. If he's a good judge, he's a good judge,” he said. But, “the list is still in the expanding stage. People (eventually) are going to start taking themselves out of contention.”
       

Wehrman in running

        Magistrate Wehrman remains in the running, say Northern Kentucky lawyers and judges.

        While his experience on the bench could help, others have said this same experience could hurt him because of an implicit lack of political ties.

        “My record speaks for itself,” Judge Wehrman said. “It's strictly up to the senators.”

        While on senior status, Judge Bertelsman will only review civil cases. He plans to close all cases filed through 2000 and will handle half of the new civil cases filed. The other Eastern District judges — who travel from Lexington, Frankfort and London, Ky. — are handling the other half. They have been splitting Judge Bertelsman's criminal cases since summer.

       



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