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Debra Hembree Lambert sworn in as 3rd Supreme Court District justice, replaces Daniel Venters

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Kentucky’s newest Supreme Court Justice took her seat on the bench for the first time on Monday following her formal investiture ceremony.

Debra Hembree Lambert was elected last November to represent the 3rd Supreme Court District, consisting of 27 counties in southern and southeast Kentucky, succeeding Justice Daniel Venters who retired after 35 years in the judiciary, the last 10 1/2 on the high court.

She invited Venters to speak during the ceremony, and he noted in a light-hearted manner, “As a small child, I was taught that a gentleman was expected to give up his seat to a lady, and so it appears that I have done exactly that.”

Debra Lambert takes oath. (Photo by Tom Latek/Kentucky Today)

Venters added: “But Justice Lambert, you have earned your place on this court. It’s a gift from no one and let no one say anything to the contrary. You worked hard to introduce yourself to the people of our region; won their confidence, trust, and affection; and the fact that there are so many here today from throughout our region, is a testament to your efforts in that regard.”

He also commented on the important work done by the Supreme Court. “This is the Court of last resort.  If this Court doesn’t get it right, it doesn’t get right. If this Court doesn’t do justice, justice isn’t done.”

In closing, Venters paraphrased what former Justice Bill Cunningham, who retired Feb. 1, told him on his first day: “OK, Debra, you made it to the big leagues, now do something good.”

Appeals Court Judge Sara Walter Combs, with whom Lambert served for four years, praised her former colleague and had this message to the high court: “She has an open mind, a large heart, a generous spirit, and I believe you will find her a bright light, as I have on the Court of Appeals.”

When it was her turn to speak, Lambert, who was born in rural Bell County, talked about lessons from her hard-working parents, who she said never had the opportunity for much education.  

“That upbringing made me passionate about justice and about a level playing field for everyone, no matter where they came from, how much they had, and especially who they may be.”

About her new colleagues, Lambert said, “I look forward to learning much from these distinguished men and women, with whom I will share the Bench. They’ll teach me much, and I have a lot to learn. And in time, I hope to be found has a worthy contributor to case law, from this highest court in the commonwealth.”

Lambert’s addition to the Supreme Court marks only the second time there have been three women on the bench, and she is the first justice to have served as a family court judge during her career. She was also the first woman from the 3rd Judicial District to be elected to the Court of Appeals and is the first to be elected to the Supreme Court.

Lambert earned her undergraduate degree at Eastern Kentucky University and graduated from the University of Kentucky College of Law in 1989.

In addition to Family Court and the Court of Appeals, she is a former Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney and City Attorney for Mt. Vernon and worked a number of years in private practice. 

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