GOP group unveils website, ad questioning judgement of retired judge running in special House election

02/19/2016 04:20 PM

A group committed to electing Republican officeholders launched a website on Friday questioning decisions made from the bench by former Greenup Circuit Judge Lew Nicholls, the Democratic nominee in the 98th House District special election.

The Republican State Leadership Committee announced, a website that highlights three cases in which it says the retired judge’s decisions “allowed child abusers to dodge justice.”

“His mishandling of one case caused a child predator’s conviction to be thrown out,” RSLC President Matt Walter said in a statement. “In a separate case, he released a convicted child killer from jail after only six months. And in yet another case, an appellate court said Nicholls ‘abused his discretion’ by keeping expert testimony out of a case involving serious injuries to babies.

“His judgement and leadership has been tested before, and he has failed. Voters need to know about Nicholls’s record before they go to the polls on March 8.”

The website includes a 15-second ad that briefly touches on the three cases, urging voters in Greenup and Boyd counties to vote against him in the contest.

“Lew Nicholls is out of control,” a female narrators says in the Web spot, part of the group’s six-figure ad campaign in four special House elections. “Keep him out of power.”

But Nicholls’s campaign called the attacks “outright lies” from an out-of-state group looking “to try to buy our state representative’s seat and disparage the credibility of a good man.”

“The people of this district know Lew,” his campaign manager, Elizabeth Cantrell Brooks, said in a statement.

“They know him as a distinguished and honorable judge who continues to serve and make a difference in our community. People of both parties respect him as a fair, honest public servant. These attacks are disgraceful and the people of our district simply aren’t going to believe it.”

In two of the criminal cases featured on the website, Nicholls’s rulings were overturned on appeal.

One involves a Kentucky Supreme Court decision from February 2012 overturning a 2003 sexual abuse conviction against a man accused of sodomizing the 5-year-old daughter of a friend. The man had already served his three-year prison sentence, but the high court overturned his conviction because Nicholls had informed the jury on the sentencing guidelines for the sexual abuse charge before they rendered a verdict on his guilt, according to a report by the Maysville Ledger Independent.

In the second, the Kentucky Court of Appeals reversed in June 2008 Nicholls’s decision to bar expert testimony on shaken-baby syndrome in a child abuse case, saying the condition had not been scientifically proven.

According to a report by The Courier-Journal on Nicholls’s original ruling, experts like former chief state medical examiner Dr. George Nichols and Dr. Carole Jenny, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, were split on the existence of shaken-baby syndrome, which first emerged in 1974.

The prosecutor in the case said because Nicholls ruled on the matter before the trial began, he was able to call expert witnesses to testify on injuring infants by shaking them during the proceeding, the Portsmouth Daily Times of Ohio reported after the appeals court’s ruling.

The third case involves Nicholls’s decision to release on shock probation a woman who had entered an Alford plea to manslaughter six months into her seven-year prison sentence for leaving her 18-month-old son in a hot van in August 2006.

The RSLC website cites a June 2008 editorial by the Maysville Ledger Independent, which disagreed with Nicholls’s shock probation order after the woman served six months behind bars. She agreed to enter a drug rehabilitation program, perform community service, and establish and contribute to a fund named for her deceased son as part of her release, according to the editorial.

Nicholls faces Republican Tony Quillen, a Greenup County commissioner, in the March 8 special election.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.


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