FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - A 35-year career in the Kentucky judiciary system is coming to an end when Supreme Court Justice Daniel J. Venters retires in January.
Venters was appointed to the high court by then-Governor Steve Beshear in 2008 to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Chief Justice Joseph Lambert, in the 3rd Supreme Court District, which includes 27 counties in southern and southeast Kentucky.
Before that, Venters served as a district court judge in Pulaski and Rockcastle counties from 1979-1984 and as a circuit court judge for Pulaski, Lincoln and Rockcastle counties between 1984 and 2003, when he returned to private practice, until his appointment to the Supreme Court.
Venter said there is quite a bit of difference between the trial court and high court benches, since lower court rulings are made by one person.
“In so many ways, the district court judges and circuit court judges have a lot more power than I have as a justice on the Kentucky Supreme Court because I can do nothing on my own, If there’s not three justices that go along with me,” he said. “The Court is a committee of seven people.”
He said when after being a trial judge for a long time, everybody loves your opinions.
“You make a decision and you can spend the whole next day with people who say, ‘Oh, that was a great judgement, judge. You did a great job in that case.’ After a decade or so, you start believing that.
“Then I come to this court, and would say, ‘Here is what I think about the case,’ and suddenly people are disagreeing with you and telling you how wrong that is.”
He added it makes for better decisions.
“I can tell you a lot of my decisions as a trial court judge would have been better, if I had a team of bright and well-informed people to bounce this around with,” he said. “Sometimes the collaboration changes the result, because in that conversation, the flaws in our reasoning can become exposed that would not have come out without this discussion.”
He was asked what he thought of media or political criticism of the courts with terms like “activist judges” and being accused of “usurping their power.”
“I feel that at times it’s intended to undermine the authority of the court and undermine the public’s acceptance of the court’s integrity,” he said.
On the other hand, “It doesn’t bother me that my work is criticized. I’m used to having things I write and think criticized. I will tell you this, nobody criticizes my work more harshly than my own colleagues on the Court. And that’s a good thing. We all make each other’s work better.”
He has won the administration of his colleagues on the high court, among them, Justice Michelle Keller who said: “Justice Dan Venters served our Court system for many years, serving at three different levels. He has a keen intellect and I grew to know him as both an invaluable ally and formidable adversary on issues we faced as Justices. He has more than earned a happy retirement. Godspeed Justice Venters.”
Venters said at the time he was appointed to the bench in 2008 he thought he wanted to serve 10 years and he has now done that. “There’s a big part of me that would like to stay longer, but I want to have some time to be obligated to do nothing,” he said. “I want to be able to travel when I want to go, to visit my grandchildren and some other relatives I don’t get to see often enough.”
He also has some hobbies he will be returning too. “I’m a guitar player and a collector, and over the years I’ve built a few guitars,” he said. “I enjoy working on them and I have several projects at home that I’ll need to get back to. I also like to build model airplanes and boats.”
Venters can also indulge in his passion for sailing. “I’ve spent a couple weeks for the last 10 years on sailing trips with friends in the Caribbean, and I’d like to keep that up a little bit.”
This is not the last time you will see a Venters on the bench. His wife, Jane Adams Venters, was elected in November to serve in the newly created Family Court judgeship, for Pulaski, Lincoln and Rockcastle counties.
“My last day in office after 35 years as a judge is January 6 and her first day is January 7, so I’ll hand her the gavel at midnight.”