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Karl Forester

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Karl Forester
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Current Court Information:
United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky
Title:   Former Judge
Position:   Seat #5T
Appointed by:   Ronald Reagan
Active:   7/27/1988 - 5/2/2005
Chief:   2001 - 2005
Senior:   5/2/2005 - Present
Preceded by:   Green Wix Unthank
Succeeded by:   Gregory Van Tatenhove
Personal History
Born:   1940
Hometown:   Harlan, KY
Deceased:   2014
Undergraduate:   University of Kentucky, B.A., 1962
Law School:   University of Kentucky College of Law, J.D., 1966

Karl Spillman Forester was a federal judge for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. He joined the court in 1988 after being nominated by President Ronald Reagan. He passed away on March 29, 2014 at the age of 73. Forester was a judge serving on senior status at the time of his death.[1]

Early life and education

A native of Kentucky, Forester graduated from the University of Kentucky with both his bachelor's and Juris Doctor in 1962 and 1966.[2]

Professional career

Forester spent his entire pre-judicial legal career as a Private Practice Attorney in Harlan, KY from 1966 to 1988.[2]

Judicial career

Eastern District of Kentucky

On the recommendation of Senator Mitch McConnell, Forester was nominated by Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1988 to a seat vacated by Wix Unthank as Unthank went on senior status. Forester was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 26, 1988 and received commission on July 27, 1988. Forester served as the chief judge of the court from 2001 to 2005 before later assuming senior status on May 2, 2005.[2] Forester was succeeded in this position by Gregory Van Tatenhove. Forester passed away on March 29, 2014. Fellow federal judge Karen Caldwell:

No matter who you were, no matter how intelligent, no matter how wealthy, Karl treated everyone equally. I just thought he embodied what I thought a federal judge ought to be. He had a keen intellect, enhanced by common sense and a great wit.[1][3]

Notable cases

Delta Comair flight 5191 crash (2009)

     United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky (Hebert, et al., v. Comair, et al., 5:07-cv-00320-KSF)

Judge Forester presided over a case in which a Louisiana woman, Jamie Hebert, sued Comair, a now-defunct subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, for loss of her husband's consortium. Comair Flight 5191, billed as Delta Connection Flight 5191, crashed in August 2006, killing 47 people. The case made news after the Kentucky Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling, established that one spouse can sue for loss of physical and emotional companionship upon the death of their spouse. A loss of consortium claim is one based on the deprivation of the physical and emotional benefits one derives from their spouse, including a sexual relationship. Previously, Kentucky law would permit such a suit if a spouse was incapacitated, but not if they died; Judge Forester allowed Hebert to reinstate her claim against Comair after the ruling.[4]

In December of 2009, a jury found in favor of Hebert and her family. Hebert and her two daughters were awarded $7.1 million dollars, including five to the children for the loss of parental consortium-- the relationship, guidance, and companionship of their father that they would have enjoyed were it not for the actions of the defendant. At the time, Hebert was the only family member of the deceased who did not settle with Comair and Delta; she indicated that she wanted to go to trial in order to force the airline to publicly accept blame.[5]

After the first trial, Comair asked for a new trial or alternatively, that the court lower the amounts awarded to the daughters as excessive. The company asked that one child who the jury awarded $3 million have her award lowered to no more than $600,000, and that the other child, whose award amounted to $2 million, have hers lowered to $200,000. Judge Forester rejected all of Comair's arguments, and noted that the award for the father's loss of earning power was less than half the amount sought by his family and very close to the defendant's own expert's estimates.[6]

After winning the compensatory damages, Hebert and her attorney sought to retrieve punitive damages from Comair for its alleged gross negligence in causing the crash. Judge Forester allowed this initially, setting a trial date for July 19, 2010. In February of 2011 though, Judge Forester reversed his earlier decision. The judge wrote that the family would not be able to show, "by clear and convincing evidence," that Comair authorized the pilots' negligent conduct. The National Transportation Safety Board had investigated and found that the pilots failed to notice clues they were on the wrong runway.[7][8]

  • Judge Forester's order reinstating Hebert's loss of spousal consortium claim is available here.
  • Judge Forester's opinion denying Comair's motion to alter the judgment is available here.
  • Judge Forester's opinion denying the legal availability of punitive damages is avialable here.

KY road-paving magnate accused of bid-rigging (2009)

     United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky (United States, v. Leonard Lawson, et al., 3:08-cr-21-DCR)

Forester presided over a bid-rigging case against a highway contractor and former Kentucky Transportation Secretary.

On July 9, 2009, Judge Forester asked federal prosecutors and defense attorney to limit the amount of new filings they would make during the 60 days before the trial of highway contractor Leonard Lawson, former Kentucky Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert, and Lawson's aide Brian Billings. Forester said the ruling was to limit the jury pool's exposure to news stories that would be written about the case.[9]

Lawson, Nighbert and Billings were accused in a conspiracy to circumvented a competitive bidding process and steer $130 million dollars of highway construction contracts to companies owned by Lawson. All three defendants pleaded not guilty.[10]

There was some media furor over the secrecy with which the case seemed to proceed, particularly regarding the courts' sealing of a statement made by Lawson during a different suit in 1983. Through the trial, some of the information the media wanted access to was eventually made public.[11]

In January 2010, a jury found Lawson and Nighbert not guilty.[12] The case against Brian Billings, Lawson's aide and the last remaining defendant in the bid-rigging case, was dismissed in February of 2010.[13]

See also

External links


Federal judicial offices
Preceded by:
Green Wix Unthank
Eastern District of Kentucky
Seat #5T
Succeeded by:
Gregory Van Tatenhove

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