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Portrait dedication honors retired chief justice

Portrait Dedication Honors Retired Chief Justice

Submitted on February 15, 2018

Alumnus Joseph E. Lambert, Class of 1970, who retired in 2008 from the Supreme Court of Kentucky after a decade as chief justice and nearly 22 years as a justice, was honored recently by having his official portrait dedicated during a ceremony at the state Capitol. The painting by Kentucky artist Stephen Sawyer will hang in the corridors of the second floor of the Capitol.

Chief Justice Lambert (ret.), a native of Rockcastle County, was first elected to the Supreme Court in 1986 from the 27 southeastern Kentucky counties of the 3rd Supreme Court District. He was re-elected in 1994 and 2002. He became Kentucky’s fourth chief justice in October 1998 by a vote of his fellow justices. He was re-elected to two additional four-year terms as chief justice in 2002 and 2006.

After earning his bachelor’s degree from Georgetown College he completed his Juris Doctor from the University Of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School Of Law, which gave him its Distinguished Alumni Award. He has received an honorary doctor of law degrees from Georgetown College, Eastern Kentucky University, and Northern Kentucky University’s Salmon P. Chase College of Law.

Chief Justice Lambert was honored at the portrait dedication with remarks by Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr. and the other six justices; state Rep. Jason Nemes, who served as Chief Justice Lambert’s chief of staff, general counsel and director of the Administrative Office of the Courts; and Jim Deckard, who also served as his chief of staff and general counsel. Gov. Matt Bevin, Attorney General Andy Beshear, and other officials attended the ceremony, as did Chief Justice Lambert’s sons, Joseph and John​ (pictured).Chief Justice Lambert with sons, Joseph and John.

Nemes and Deckard reflected on Chief Justice Lambert’s career and accomplishments, including his role in expanding Family Court and Drug Court across the state, creating the Jefferson County Racial Fairness Commission, increasing the number of judgeships and replacing outdated courthouses.

“Chief Justice Lambert’s accomplishments have moved our people forward,” Nemes said. “Family Court, Drug Court, ample resources so judges and circuit clerks could do their work. These works have done right by the least of these. But the accomplishments are not what I will remember most, Mr. Chief Justice. What I will remember most is the heart of the man. Joe is a good man. A very good man.”

Chief Justice Lambert was skilled at building consensus among his colleagues on the court, Deckard said. “As this court knows, dissents are important but more important is the ability to build consensus to form majorities and create precedent for Kentucky law,” he said. 

Deckard also talked about his time with the chief justice. “I know from watching him on a daily basis that Chief Justice Lambert cares deeply about those who are struggling in our state, our fellow citizens who find themselves addicted to drugs or children who face the difficult circumstances of dependency, abuse, and neglect,” he said.

Chief Justice Lambert

In October 2007, U.S. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. appointed Chief Justice Lambert as a member of the Committee on Federal-State Jurisdiction of the Judicial Conference of the United States. The Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy gave Chief Justice Lambert its Public Service Award in 2006. In 2004, he received the Civil Rights Award from both the Northern Kentucky NAACP and the Lexington NAACP for his commitment to eliminating discrimination. In 2003, he was awarded the Kentucky Bar Association President’s Special Service Award. He was given the Kentucky Public Advocate Award in 2001, and in 2000 the Kentucky Bar Association named him Outstanding Judge of Kentucky and the National Association of Drug Court Professionals gave him its Leadership Award.

As a justice, Chief Justice Lambert authored more than 400 published opinions of the Supreme Court. He has been a frequent lecturer at bar conferences and has authored articles for publication in scholarly journals and the Kentucky Bar Association’s “Bench and Bar” magazine. He has also participated in national legal education events as an invited speaker or panelist. He is a former board member of the National Conference of Chief Justices and a former regent of Eastern Kentucky University. He formerly served as board chair of the Kentucky Judicial Form Retirement System.

Upon retiring from the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Lambert joined the Senior Judge program, where he was a Special Judge on the Court of Appeals for five years. He is now in private practice with his son, Joseph, in Mount Vernon, Ky.

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