The State Judicial Conduct Commission has cleared Chief Justice Joseph Lambert and his wife, Family Court Judge Debra Hembree Lambert, in connection with the acceptance of questionable campaign contributionsduring an election four years ago.

The complaint before the state’s Judicial Conduct Commission which wasdismissed on Friday alleged the family court judge knowingly accepted “straw contributions” from Pikeville coal operator Ross Harris. Straw contributions occur when a person’s employees and their spouses make contributions under their own names, then are reimbursed.

“After a thorough and independent investigation, the Judicial Conduct Commission has determined that Joe and I did nothing wrong,” said Debra Lambert, family court judge. “I am very pleased with having received a complete exoneration and likewise pleased that the matter is now concluded.”

Debra Lambert received 10 $1,000 political contributions that “were funded by a source other than the named contributors,” according to the commission’s five-page order.

The complaint filed by Mark Nickolas claimed the Lamberts “knew or should have known” about the contributions and also alleged the chief justice should have removed himself from a case involving Harris.

Lambert was one of the six Supreme Court Justices to hear a case in May 2005 against Harris’ corporate interests.

To end the matter the commission whose members operate independently of the Supreme Court and whose members are not chosen by the Supreme Court found that neither of the Lamberts violated the judicial conduct code.

There is a lingering controversy over Chief Justice Lambert's part in the current family court judge race involving his wife and retired district judge Walter Maguire.

Joseph Lambert was consulted on the issue of senior judges "double-dipping."

Lambert was consulted about the legislation before the retirement provision was proposed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Gross Lindsay, D-Henderson. The provision affects five candidates on this year’s ballot including Maguire who is running against Lambert. If the bill passes, a former judge who receives $80,000 in annual pension payments and comes out of retirement to win a $110,000-a-year judgeship would see his yearly salary just increase by $30,000 for a total of $110,000 instead of $190,000.

“I was contacted by the Chair of the Judiciary committee,” said Joseph Lambert, chief Justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court. “He wanted to know whether Judges in Kentucky would be able to take advantage of a loophole in our Judicial retirement system and double dip. I explained that under the current rules, some retired judges could take their retirement benefits and receive a salary totaling over $200,000 per year. While this provision has existed for years now, no one had ever attempted to take advantage of it before.”

Lindsay said he wanted to talk to the chief justice to see if such a bill could be made and the chief gave his approval.

“As I understand his bill, it would apply to all retired judges who are elected back into the system,” said Lambert.



The Assoicated Press contributed to this story.

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