Sam Wright | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

Sam Wright

Question 1: 

What experiences – both personal and professional – do you bring to this position that you believe make you uniquely qualified for the role of Justice of the Supreme Court? Why should voters choose you?

Served as District Judge 1992-1993, Circuit Judge 1993-2015, Justice of the Supreme Court of Kentucky 2015-present. Started the first Parent Education Clinic in Eastern Kentucky and one of the first in Kentucky to minimize the harm children suffer in divorces. Started Drug Court in 2004 and ran it for almost 12 years until I was elected to the Supreme Court. Applied for and received a federal grant for approximately a half a million dollars to expand the drug court. Ran one of the most successful drug courts in Kentucky. Study showed that graduates of my drug court were only convicted of new crimes after graduation at the rate of 0% for felonies and 9% for misdemeanors while the average for drug courts state wide was 22%. I have been a strong and effective voice for justice on the Supreme Court of Kentucky.

Question 2: 

What do you see as your primary responsibilities and duties if elected to this office? Do you see a conflict between being an elected official and an independent judge?

My duties are to see justice done, both in individual cases and in the administration of the whole court system. Elections are the best system for selection of independent judges. The judge is accountable to all the voters. Systems where judges are selected by an individual or small group are much more subject to undue influence if the appointing individual or small group is trying to advance their own agenda.

Question 3: 

What are your views on whether the court, as a whole, deals effectively with racial and gender bias? What could improve that?

There are 7 justices on the Supreme Court of Kentucky and it has been my honor to serve with 4 different women justices. William E. McAnulty Jr. served as the first African American justice on the Supreme Court of Kentucky. Currently there are 7 women serving as judges of the Court of Appeals (that is half of the 14 judges). Two of those women are African American and one is Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals. There has been a tremendous change throughout the whole court system in this regard, but we are always working to improve. We helped sponsor and all of the justices attended the black history month celebration at the capitol. We had a black history month celebration at the Administrative Office of the Courts and awarded the William E. McAnulty Jr. award. Again I and all of my fellow justices attended. A picture from the event is posted on the Kentucky Court of Justice web site. The Chief Justice's Racial Fairness Commission was formed in 2001. Since its inception, the Commission has issued 4 reports: Sentencing, Bail, Jury Selection, and Courtroom Environment (Fairness and Access). After release of the Courtroom Environment report, The Kentucky Court of Justice implemented implicit bias and cultural competency training for all Court of Appeals, circuit court and district court judges; all circuit clerks; all specialty courts staff; all family and juvenile services staff; and pretrial staff. On May 16, 2019, the Supreme Court held the inaugural "Court Talks" and had representatives of 14 agencies present to speak, listen and take questions from the audience. The purpose of the event was twofold: to educate the public regarding the different roles and responsibilities of participants in the court system; and second , to listen to community concerns and answer questions regarding experiences with and perceptions of the courts. Following the listening sessions, a series of 5 focus groups were held to address the topics of drug court, bail and incarceration, evictions, family court, and expungements. The focus groups meetings were held in May and June of 2019. The results of these efforts are being taken back to the next "Court Talks" to determine our best approach to improve.

Question 4: 

Do you believe that all citizens have adequate access to legal help and the legal system? If not, what can be done to provide wider and better access?

Answer 4: 

There is room for improvement. I was greatly honored last year when the 4 legal aid societies in Kentucky (AppalReD Legal Aid, Kentucky Legal Aid, Legal Aid of the Bluegrass, and Legal Aid Society) presented me with a beautiful and unique award in recognition of my efforts in support of the Kentucky Access to Justice Commission. When the budget proposed 2 years ago eliminated funding for Kentucky Access to Justice Commission the entire Supreme Court went to the hearings to emphasis how important we think equal access to justice is and when the budget was passed the funding was restored for Kentucky access to Justice Commission. In March 2019 Kentucky was one of 11 states to receive a Justice For All planning grant from the National Center for State Courts. The Kentucky Access to Justice Commission was established by order of the Supreme Court of Kentucky making access to justice a priority for the Judicial Branch. There is an overwhelming need to help low- and moderate-income individuals find a path to resolution of civil legal issues. In criminal cases the Department of Public Advocacy has a statewide defense program with 344 full-time attorneys and 155 private attorneys on contract doing conflict representation. These attorneys are assisted by dedicated Alternative Sentencing workers, Investigators, Mitigation Specialists and Office Support Professionals. They do an impressive job in criminal cases for people who can not afford to hire an attorney.

Question 5: 

What do you believe is the purpose of incarceration, both pre-trial and post-trial? 

Answer 5: 

Pre-trial incarceration purpose is to ensure the persons appearance for trial and, when there is a danger to an individual or the public, to place effective safeguards to protect the individual or the public. Post-trial incarceration has 3 purposes: 1. deterrence, 2. punishment, and 3. rehabilitation.

Question 6: 

How would you respond to the argument that the cash bail system should be eliminated because it disproportionately punishes low income Kentuckians?

Answer 6: 

Kentucky is a national leader on this issue. Kentucky eliminated bail bondsmen. In the states where they still have bail bond agents it is a $2 billion industry that siphons millions of dollars from the poor. Kentucky has eliminated the private industry of bail bondsmen. The Courts have continued to work on the problems with the bail system and have revised it several times in our continuing effort to make it as fair and just as possible. (Part of those efforts have been detailed in response to question 12). The last time I checked 48 of the states and territories had come to Kentucky to study what we have accomplished or requested that we send our personnel to their state to explain what we have accomplished without additional money in our budget for the project. After I joined the Supreme Court we issued an order adopting the Non-Financial Schedule of Bail/Administrative Release Program. There is always room for improvement and we have revised the Non-Financial Schedule of Bail/Administrative Release Program. We have continued to study the issue and the study we conducted last year showed that there is still room for improvement and we are continuing to work on it.