FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) -- A recently retired Kentucky Supreme Court justice, who spent over 40 years in public service, was honored Friday with a portrait that will hang outside the high court’s chambers at the State Capitol.
Bill Cunningham was surrounded by friends, family and other well-wishers at the unveiling, which took place in the chamber where he served on the Supreme Court for over a dozen years, representing western Kentucky, before he retired this past February.
Before beginning his judicial career, Cunningham was Eddyville City Attorney from 1974 to 1991, and Public Defender for the Kentucky State Penitentiary from 1974-76.
He served as Commonwealth’s Attorney for the 56th Judicial District, consisting of Caldwell, Livingston, Lyon and Trigg counties from 1976 to 1988. During that time, Cunningham was voted the Outstanding Commonwealth’s Attorney of Kentucky by his peers.
From 1992 until joining the Supreme Court in 2007, Cunningham was a circuit judge for the 56th Judicial Circuit.
He was also a hearing officer for the Kentucky Board of Claims from 1981-85 and a trial commissioner for the Lyon County District Court from 1989 to 1992.
During the ceremony, former Justice Dan Venters, a long-time colleague of Cunningham’s, who retired at the end of 2018, stated, no one, while he was on the Court, did more to advance the public image of the Court than Cunningham.
“Bill Cunningham traveled his district, met with individual district clerks, deputy clerks,” he said. “All the workers of the court system throughout his district came to know him as someone who was looking out for their interests. And that produced a great amount of good will toward the Court of Justice. We may all have tried to do that, but no one could do it the way Justice Cunningham did.”
Cunningham told the crowd, “The people I’ve served with on this court, including the current members, are a perfect illustration of how the non-partisan election of judges is the best system. If you sat here in the conference room and saw these people I worked with over 12 years, and saw the expertise, the intellect and professionalism, their dedication, their passion, then you would know this is the way to select judges.”
Retirement doesn’t mean Cunningham is taking it easy.
“I teach two days a week at Murray State,” he told Kentucky Today. “I thought that was going to be a little sideshow, but it’s turned into a lot of work.”
His class is criminal justice and is being taught without textbooks. “I have to create everything from scratch.”
He says teaching classes on Tuesday and Thursday keeps him from traveling as much as he would like, although he has kept the apartment in Frankfort he has had since joining the high court for quick getaways with his wife. “We can make a weekend out of it. We left after my class Thursday and spent a few days here. I really miss the people at the Capitol.”