By Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — Kentucky Senate President David Williams, who has bedeviled Democrats in the Capitol for more than a decade, might vacate his office in coming days.
A seven-member judicial nominating commission recommended the longtime Republican lawmaker and two other lawyers Thursday for an open circuit court seat in Williams’ district in Southern Kentucky.
“I am appreciative of the nomination and if the governor appoints me, I will accept the position,” Williams said in a statement.
The nominating commission met Thursday morning in Burkesville for a little less than an hour. The two other people recommended for the job are Angela M. Capps, a public defender, and Stephen Douglas Hurt, a retired district court judge.
Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, has 60 days to appoint one of the three nominees to the open seat in the 40th Circuit, which covers Cumberland, Clinton and Monroe counties. A spokeswoman for Beshear did not say when the governor plans to make an appointment.
The position had been held by Judge Eddie Lovelace, who died unexpectedly in September. Lovelace’s family has said the judge probably died from complications after receiving fungus-tainted steroid injections.
Williams, of Burkesville, has been a central and sometimes polarizing figure in Kentucky politics since becoming Senate President in 2000. Under Williams’ leadership, the Republican Party increased its numbers and clout in Frankfort.
Beshear and Williams have been at odds since Beshear was elected governor in 2007. Their relationship became even more contentious after Beshear handily beat Williams in the 2011 gubernatorial race.
If Beshear appoints Williams his retirement income could double. Legislators can greatly increase their pensions if they take higher-paying positions in the executive branch or the judicial branch of state government. A circuit court judge makes about $124,000 a year, more than double what most part-time legislators make.
Because of a 2005 change in pension rules, part-time lawmakers who take jobs in the judicial branch or executive branch can count their higher-paying, full-time state salaries when calculating their legislative pension benefits.
While running for governor in 2011, Williams said he would donate the increase in his pension to charity if elected.
If Beshear appoints Williams, as is widely expected, it would not be the first time he has given a plum gig in government to a Republican lawmaker.
In 2009, Beshear appointed then-Senate Majority Leader Dan Kelly to a circuit judgeship. That same year, he appointed Sen. Charlie Borders to the Public Service Commission.
The other two lawyers nominated by the commission Thursday also have previously held elected positions.
Capps, a public defender in Clinton County, served as the Cumberland County Attorney from 2007 to 2011. Douglas Hurt is a former district court judge who has served as a senior-status judge since he retired in 2009. A senior status judge presides over cases as needed.
The person appointed by Beshear will serve the remaining two years of Lovelace’s term. The seat is up for re-election in 2014.