Chief Justice of Kentucky Supreme Court speaks to Rotary Club

Published 2:54 pm Monday, March 27, 2023

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The Chief Justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court was in town to speak at the weekly meeting of the Winchester-Clark County Rotary Club on Friday, not that Laurance B. VanMeter is far from the area.

VanMeter keeps his office in town and considers it his hometown despite not being born here.

“Like a lot of kids from Clark County, I was born in Lexington, but my mother and father lived [in Winchester],” VanMeter said. “I grew up here. I went to St. Agatha [for] grade school.”

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While he would later go to school in Virginia and work in other Kentucky areas, VanMeter always maintained a connection to Clark County.

Starting as a transactions lawyer, VanMeter’s earliest days in law consisted of working with business organizations, planning, real estate, taxation, and probate trusts.

As an attorney from 1983-1994 with Stoll, Keenon, and Park – which has since merged with another firm and is now Stoll Keenon Ogden LLC – VanMeter also had a connection to equine law.

During this period, VanMeter had his first spark of interest in becoming a judge.

“We were trying to interpret statutes, case law, and draw up agreements to help our clients reach their goals,” VanMeter said. “I read enough opinions where I didn’t feel like the judges were doing that, so I wanted to become a judge.”

Thus, after over ten years in practice, VanMeter decided to run for and – following a close election in which he won by 230 votes out of 42,000 cast – became a District Court Judge of the 22nd Judicial District that served Fayette County.

After five years, VanMeter was appointed to the Fayette County Circuit Court bench in 1999.

He was later elected to the Kentucky Court of Appeals in 2003 and was named Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals in 2010.

In 2017 he was sworn in as a justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Following the retirement of John D. Minton Jr., he rose to his current position.

Speaking about several issues, VanMeter spoke about making all elections partisan – including city commissioners.

Proposed legislation during the 2023 session of the Kentucky General Assembly would have made municipal races partisan.

Pointing out the results of what would occur afterward, VanMeter disagreed with the proposal which failed to get enough votes to clear the legislature.

“If the legislature were to pass a constitutional amendment, and the voters of Kentucky were to enact that, the first thing that will happen is that we will amend the rules to permit us to endorse other candidates, to permit us to ask for money, and to grant [opportunities] to give money,” he said. “What the legislature basically would be doing is creating this body of super politicians that are elected on a partisan basis [and] that have final say…We’re supposed to be elected on an independent [basis] because our fealty is to the law, not the party platform.”

VanMeter also mentioned the roles that lawyers could have in serving communities.

A father of four and former little league baseball coach who taught players, including pitcher Walker Buehler – a two-time All-Star and member of the 2020 World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers – VanMeter believes in taking action.

“When I ran for Supreme Court, I ran into a number of young people who reminded me they had played in our little league or youth soccer association,” VanMeter said. “The entire purpose of living in societies is to make our communities a better place.”

VanMeter also mentioned the core roles of the Kentucky Supreme Court.

“We do adjudication, which is what most everybody thinks of when they think about the court system…but we also do administration, and so all the justices on the Supreme Court get a little bit of administration.”

As Chief Justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court, VanMeter acknowledges that the job isn’t without challenges as he encounters multiple daily conflicts.

However, he aspires to make an impact through the legal system.

Being close to Winchester is rewarding as well.

“This is where I grew up, and I’m happy to have my office here,” he said.