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Courier-Journal - "Supreme Court Hopefuls Praised"

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Location: Louisville, KY


Courier-Journal - "Supreme Court Hopefuls Praised"

In what is expected to be a tight race for the Supreme Court seat that opened up after the death of William E. McAnulty Jr., his appointed replacement Lisabeth Hughes Abramson and Chief Circuit Court Judge James Shake both recently received high marks from local attorneys.

Shake was rated qualified or highly qualified by 87 percent of the 744 lawyers who voted in a Louisville Bar Association poll released this month, compared to 84 percent for Abramson.

Abramson, however, was deemed highly qualified by 66 percent of the attorneys, compared to 59 percent for Shake.

And Abramson noted that if you don't count the respondents who didn't know her, her highly qualified ranking jumps to 76 percent, compared to 65 percent for Shake. She also would rank a little higher than Shake when combining qualified and highly qualified if you only use the rankings of those who know the candidate.

"The highly qualified category is significant when you are talking about the highest court in the state," Abramson said.

Shake questioned the significance of the poll, saying it's not clear what the numbers mean.

"I don't know who is responding and what they are basing it on," Shake said. "I sometimes think this poll is an election poll, basically."

A more quantitative gauge of a judge's effectiveness, Shake said, is the bi-annual judicial evaluation and approval ratings.

Shake noted that those evaluations, unlike the judicial candidate poll, include various fields such as legal ability, judicial integrity, temperament and court management.

Shake has consistently led other circuit court judges in Jefferson County in every category for years and had a 99 percent overall performance ranking in the most recent poll.

"I'm very proud of that," Shake said.

Abramson, who also did well in the judicial evaluations, said those evaluations were for the circuit court judge position and trial court performance, not the Supreme Court. And she noted that far fewer attorneys responded to those evaluations than this judicial election poll.

"It's a much smaller group of people responding and it's for a different position," she said. The judicial candidate poll asked about 4,000 attorneys to rate candidates vying for seats. Lawyers rated them as highly qualified, qualified or not qualified. Respondents could also say they didn't know the candidate or just not rate them.

Critics, and even some judges who have been rated highly, have said the poll is mostly a popularity contest.

Abramson, who has received the endorsement of Citizens for Better Judges, a watchdog group of residents and attorneys, said she also has three years experience as a state Court of Appeals judge and has been a Supreme Court justice for six months, since her appointment by then-Gov. Ernie Fletcher to McAnulty's seat. Whoever wins the November election will serve the balance of McAnulty's term, which runs until 2014.

Abramson said she has a great deal of respect for Shake — the two worked next to each other as circuit court judges for years — and that "it's going to be an interesting race."

"But if I do what I need to do, things will turn out fine for me," she said.

Shake, who has thought about running for the high court for several years, also said both candidates are well-qualified for the seat.

"I would have nothing negative to say about Lisa," he said. "I believe I'm a better choice, but I think there are two good candidates."

Both consistently receive high marks by attorneys and were each deemed unqualified by less than 3 percent of the respondents. Nine percent of the respondents said they didn't know Abramson and 6 percent said they didn't know Shake.

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