‘Madame Institution': Supreme Court clerk retiring after 40 years


FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - It’s the end of an era with Kentucky Supreme Court Clerk Susan Clary retiring Friday after nearly 40 years of service to the high court.

She began her career shortly after graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Law in 1981, serving as law clerk for then-Supreme Court Justice James B. Stevenson.  The following year, she became administrative assistant to Chief Justice Robert Stephens.

In 1983, she was named the Supreme Court’s General Counsel, and five years later added the title of Court Administrator.  Finally, in 1995 she became Clerk of the Supreme Court and continued to hold all three posts until her retirement.

Among her many accomplishments working with the high court, Clary helped develop and implement the statewide Court Designated Worker program as part of Juvenile Services in the mid-1980s.

“Prior to that, the Court really had no role with the pre-adjudication process,” she said.  “We now divert children from the system, and into community resources and social services.  We were dealing with drug issues even back then, getting them into treatment, trying to keep them out of jail and from re-offending.”

That has since expanded into the Drug Court programs for adults.

Clary has also been involved in helping set up the Family Court rules, which began as a pilot project and has expanded into more Kentucky counties.

She says while the justices have dealt with many high-profile cases, one of them that comes to mind is Rose v. Council for Better Education, in which the Supreme Court held the General Assembly did not satisfy the constitutional requirement to provide an efficient system of common schools throughout the state. To meet the constitutional requirement, the Court said the education system must be adequately funded, ensure equality, and be designed to provide every child with seven delineated capacities.

“My mom was a teacher for 43 years and my aunt was a principal, so I come from a family of educators,” she said.  “So that one really stands out.”

She says she has loved her time with the Supreme Court.  “I’ve been responsible for everything from the paint on the wall to the opinions.  I’ll just miss it all.  It’s a fantastic institution and public service is the most noble of professions.”

Those whom she worked for say they will miss her as well.

“Susan Clary’s long tenure on the second floor of the Capitol has made her synonymous with the Supreme Court,” said Chief Justice John D. Minton, Jr.  “I’ve had the privilege of working with Susan for many years and I consider her a true servant of the commonwealth. She has served the Judicial Branch with the utmost professionalism and dedication. I appreciate her many contributions and wish her all the best on a retirement that is certainly well deserved.”

Justice Michelle Keller concurs.  “Justices have come and gone, some with longer tenure than others, but Susan has been the institution here,” she told Kentucky Today, noting that former Justice Bill Cunningham nicknamed her “Madame Institution.”

“What he meant by that was out of reverence, not poking fun,” Keller continued.  “Many of us know she would always put the Court first.  That doesn’t mean any individual Justice or Chief Justice, but the Court as an institution.  She’s been a fierce defender of the Court who has always been there to advise the Court.  She’s one of those rare people that have an unrivaled work ethic coupled with loyalty and a belief in the system.  Most institutions would be hard-pressed to find somebody like her.”

As for her plans after retirement, Clary said, “I’m going to Marco Island next week.  I haven’t been to the beach for a couple years.”



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