Sara Combs says stepping down had more to do with cutbacks than possible run in '11

06/29/2010 10:16 AM

Judge Sara Combs

When Court of Appeals Judge Sara Walter Combs relinquished her duties as chief of the appellate court last month, she didn’t publicly cite as a reason her growing annoyance with a system that is forcing cuts and layoffs on the courts.

But she said in an interview with cn|2 Politics last week that her frustration has boiled over as she has watched the Administrative Office of the Court shutter programs and eliminate jobs, which she said amounted to “slaughtering people like hogs.”

Combs had held the top post in the appellate court for six years before announcing she would step aside on May 12 and return to being an appeals judge.  In a statement at the time, Combs said, “it is my desire and intent to devote more of my time to the essential work of the court rather than its demanding and time-consuming administration.”

She said that still holds true, as does her desire to clear up time to finish writing a book. But she said the driving force was her disagreement with the handling of the budget constriction.

Overall, the court system faces a $6.8 million shortfall in 2011. Among the divisions placed on the chopping block is the juvenile drug court program. The court of appeals and supreme court both took 3 percent cuts. Among the jobs that were slashed were the seven circuit court reporter positions and18 family court staff positions, according to Chief Justice John D. Minton’s budget reduction statement from April 30.

“I differ philosophically with the need to cut some programs,” she said. “The AOC fired close to 150 people for what? No one else has done that.”

Other state agencies have seen their ranks thinned, mostly through attrition, but no department has had more layoffs than the courts.

“It’s going to affect vital services offered by the court system,” she said. “This is just the beginning.”

Combs, the widow of former Gov. Bert T. Combs, wouldn’t lay blame at anyone specifically either at AOC or in the legislature, which crafted the 2011-12 budgets.

“The legislature has the duty to cut when there’s not enough money,” she said. “But it’s another thing to have this kind of slaughter of people and destruction of the function of the court.”

She also didn’t rule out the possibility of running for statewide office in 2011, although she said that wasn’t part of her reasoning for stepping down as chief judge.

“I really don’t know,” she said when asked if she would run for state office. “I’ve heard the same thing, but that’s not what motivated me to step down.”

Of all the offices, attorney general fits with Combs legal background. But it is unlikely she would run unless incumbent Attorney General Jack Conway decides not to seek re-election next year or wins this November’s U.S. Senate race.

Combs also said running for state auditor is “a possibility.”

“I don’t really know what the auditor does except reveal one scandal after another,” she said. Incumbent Auditor “Crit Luallen has really transformed that office to the point that it has become a real powerful force.”

Luallen is term-limited and cannot seek re-election next year.

- Ryan Alessi

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