McNeill sworn in as Court of Appeals judge for Western Kentucky

Public can watch May 1 investiture ceremony on YouTube

FRANKFORT, Ky., May 8, 2020 – J. Christopher McNeill is the newest judge of the Kentucky Court of Appeals after being sworn in from his home in Paducah by Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr. Due to the need for social distancing, the May 1 investiture took place by videoconference and was live-streamed on the Kentucky Court of Justice YouTube site. The public can watch the archived ceremony at the YouTube link.

As with in-person investiture ceremonies, McNeill’s swearing-in was a family affair. His wife, Melanie, and the couple’s two sons, Walker and Whitson, joined him as he took the oath of office. Melanie held the Bible during the ceremony and then helped new Judge McNeill into his judicial robe.

Several friends watched the event from outside the McNeills’ open front door.

McNeill was appointed by Gov. Andy Beshear on April 22 to serve the 1st Appellate District, Division 1. The district is composed of the commonwealth’s 24 westernmost counties: Allen, Ballard, Butler, Caldwell, Calloway, Carlisle, Christian, Crittenden, Edmonson, Fulton, Graves, Hickman, Hopkins, Livingston, Logan, Lyon, Marshall, McCracken, McLean, Muhlenberg, Simpson, Todd, Trigg and Webster.

He succeeds Justice Christopher Shea Nickell, who was elected to the Supreme Court of Kentucky in the November general election.

Judge McNeill

J. Christopher McNeill grew up on a family farm in Fulton County in his native Western Kentucky. He took office May 1, 2020, after being appointed to the Kentucky Court of Appeals by Gov. Andy Beshear.

He previously practiced law for more than 20 years. During that time, he was in private civil practice and a staff attorney for the Kentucky Court of Appeals. As directing attorney for the Public Defender’s Office in McCracken County, he was involved in or supervised representation in over 70,000 cases for six primary counties and multiple other counties in the Purchase and Pennyrile districts.

He earned a juris doctor by attending night school at Northern Kentucky University Salmon P. Chase College of Law while working full time for a Kentucky Office of Inspector General. He also completed a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and a master’s degree in organizational communication from Murray State University. He completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Judge McNeill is a past president of the McCracken County Bar Association. He has been a member of the McCracken County Specialty Court Board (formerly Drug Court) since its inception in 2005. He is also a member and past president of the Rotary Club of Paducah. In 2012, the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy honored him with its Professionalism and Excellence Award. In 2018, the Kentucky Bar Association chose him to participate in its inaugural Leadership Conference for lawyers who were serving as leaders in their profession and communities.

He is a former member of the Impact Poverty study group sponsored by the United Way in Paducah and a former vice-chair of Paducah Main Street, which recognized him with its Distinguished Service Award in 2008. He serves as a deacon of First Baptist Church in Paducah.

Chris and his wife, Melanie, live in Paducah and have been married for 26 years and have two sons, Walker and Whitson.

Judge McNeill

Nearly all cases heard by the Kentucky Court of Appeals come to it on appeal from a lower court. If a case is tried in Circuit Court or District Court and the losing parties involved are not satisfied with the outcome, they may ask for a higher court to review the correctness of the trial court’s decision. Some cases, such as criminal case acquittals and divorces, may not be appealed. In a divorce case, however, child custody and property rights decisions may be appealed. Cases are not retried in the Court of Appeals. Only the record of the original court trial is reviewed, with attorneys presenting the legal issues to the court for a decision.

Fourteen judges, two elected from seven appellate court districts, serve on the Court of Appeals. The judges are divided into panels of three to review and decide cases, with the majority determining the decision. The panels do not sit permanently in one location, but travel throughout the state to hear cases.

Administrative Office of the Courts

The Administrative Office of the Courts in Frankfort is the operations arm for the state court system. The AOC supports the activities of nearly 3,400 court system employees and 406 elected justices, judges and circuit court clerks. As the fiscal agent for the state court system, the AOC executes the Judicial Branch budget.