Citizens group seeks judge's ouster

June 29, 2004|EMILY BURTON

SOMERSET - A Somerset-based group united in its protest against Family Court Judge Debra H. Lambert, wife of Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph Lambert, gathered Monday night to continue efforts to see her removed from the bench.

It has been a tricky affair from the start, said organizers, but Monday's meeting was the best to date. On Monday, the family court judge didn't try to attend.

Lambert, of Mount Vernon, serves Lincoln, Pulaski and Rockcastle counties.

Concerned Citizens for a Better Family Court first met after several parents had serious concerns about Debra Lambert's rulings, organizers said.

Lambert issued a statement today, saying, "I have followed the rule of law and treated every party with utmost dignity and respect. It is not my nature to be abusive or dismissive with anyone. The behaviors of these women are orchestrated to attempt to intimidate me and to prevent me from doing my job as a family court judge."


"Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for small groups of disgruntled litigants to make defamatory statements about sitting circuit judges," said Leigh Ann Hiatt, public information officer with the state Administrative Office of the Courts.

The meetings of Concerned Citizens are focused on unseating Lambert, organizers said, but also to educate members about the court system and provide support for those who have appeared before Lambert.

Many have seen their children traumatized by her decisions, said group president Carrie Schultz of Pulaski County.

"I, as a professional person, have worked with [multiple judges], and in all my years of testimony in court, I have never seen such a malicious, mean-spirited person," said Schultz.

Schultz, a mental health therapist, said she saw her own children put into foster care by Lambert during her family court case.

The details of each individual case, however, are unimportant, said Sandra Morrow of Pulaski County, vice president of the group. Protecting children from the trauma of Lambert's decisions, as well as reforming family court are the primary goals of the organization.

"The problems aren't being solved in the right amount of time, and the kids aren't getting counseling. The families aren't getting counseling," said Morrow.

"It basically all comes down to the kids," said Schultz.

Judicial Conduct Commission handles complaints

Citizens' complaints can be filed with the Judicial Conduct Commission, but no complaint is made public unless the commission files charges and has a public hearing. Should the commission fail to charge the judge, the complaint remains closed to the public indefinitely and is dropped.

To date, the commission said it has not filed any charges against Debra Lambert.

Schultz and Morrow believe it is because of who her husband is. Co-workers say it is because of Lambert's stellar service on the bench.

"Her overall concern is always the children. I don't agree with everything she does, but I can always understand her reasoning," said Somerset attorney Melinda Gillum Dalton.

"She's a very hard-working person. She has the best of intentions in all she does," said Jacindia Wells, a paralegal who has dealt with Lambert for six years.

In 2002, Lambert was honored for her "outstanding achievement" as a family court and drug court judge by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, according to the AOC.

Dalton said she believed the Concerned Citizens group is fueled by a few sour grapes and a lack of understanding of the law. "In Judge Lambert's position, there has to be a winner and a loser ... and that's just the nature of the type of case that's presented to her," Dalton said.

More than 120 members have joined Concerned Citizens, Morrow said. Some are afraid to show their faces at the meetings, Morrow said, for fear of Lambert's retaliation against them in court.

During the first meeting, Lambert came with a group of co-workers, sat in on the meeting and interrupted the proceedings, and people were afraid to speak up, said Morrow. When the group met a second time, a woman from Lambert's office was found hiding a tape recorder and was asked to leave, Schultz said.

On Monday, supporters of Concerned Citizens signed up for a future picket against Lambert and worked to strengthen the organization. In time, they hope to become a registered non-profit organization.

"Since the inception of family court, we have worked with social workers, law enforcement, schools and families to create a solid problem-solving team. I am proud of what we have accomplished," Lambert said in her statement.

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