Retired judges being stretched thin




  • In US
  • 2022-08-13 09:23:00Z
  • By Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.

Aug. 13-Retired judges Joe Castlen and Tom Castlen have spent much of this year covering cases in Daviess Family Court. Starting next month, they'll take on additional roles, presiding over cases in one of Daviess Circuit Court's two divisions.

The Administrative Office of the Courts will appoint the Castlens, who are both retired Circuit judges, to cover the division currently presided over by Circuit Judge Jay Wethington, who recently announced plans to retire at the end of August.

Both Castlens are part of the AOC's retired judges program that assigns retired judges to handle special cases and cover in jurisdictions that need a judge. Both judges were assigned to Daviess Family Court after Julie Hawes Gordon voluntarily was suspended pending complaints against her by the Judicial Conduct Commission. Both Castlens also hear cases and mediate cases in other counties.

Tom Castlen said mediation work outside the county will likely have to stop, at least until a new Circuit judge is seated in January. Currently, Wethington and Leigh Jackson are listed as candidates for the Circuit seat. According to the Secretary of State's office, Wethington has not officially withdrawn from the race.

"The AOC will assign both of us to both of the courts," Tom Castlen said Friday. "We'll be doing that beginning the first of September, and we'll try to help as much as we can.

"I'll primarily be working in Circuit, and Joe will primarily be in Family."

Joe Castlen said retired judges are spread thin in western Kentucky, and he still has obligations in other counties. For example, he will be presiding over a homicide trial in Ohio County in the near future, which will take him away from courts in Daviess County.

"There is going to be a week where there will be no judge here" in Family Court, he said, nor in the Circuit division where the Castlens are filling in.

"We can't do mediations anymore" after Sept. 1 outside of the county, Joe Castlen said. A mediation is where a judge meets with prosecutors and defense attorneys in a criminal case and tries to broker a plea agreement instead of having the case go to trial.

The judges will fill in for one another when one has a conflict and the other has free time.

"We sat down and worked out a calendar for both courts," Joe Castlen said. Because of their busy schedule, there will be some hearings that will have to be postponed.

"I'm sure the (Daviess County) Bar (Association) realized there are going to be some hearings, or cases, rescheduled or redocketed," Tom Castlen said. "We hope it doesn't inconvenience too many of our litigants too much."

In Family Court, District Judge David Payne is working cases as well as the Castlens, while still handing District Court duties. Family Court had a case backlog, but the cases are being caught up.

"There is no backlog, we are in good shape," Joe Castlen said. "There's not going to be a problem for me or Tom (in District or Family Court). It's those places we can't do anymore."

After the first of the year, more judges are expected to be available to cover cases where there are judicial vacancies, or cases where the judge can't preside because of a conflict, Joe Castlen said. The hope, he said, is for him and his brother be able to go back to handling cases only a couple days a week.

"Tom and I have been talking about how this is getting old," he said.

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

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