|Judge Fred "Fritz" Stine in his home office. FTM file.|
Campbell County Circuit Court Judge, Fred A. Stine, has filed his retirement paperwork with the Commonwealth of Kentucky and will give way to an appointment by Governor Matt Bevin, before a May 2018 primary special election.
Stine has served as a Circuit Court Judge since 2005 when Gov. Ernie Fletcher appointed him to replace retired Judge Len Kopowski.
Stine's last day will be Friday, August 4 and it's no coincidence that his caseload is full right up until that day.
"I've got three trials scheduled during my last week," he joked. "I haven't figured out exactly what we are going to do if those spill over until the following Monday. My dad, was just a hardworking old German and by God, if you had a job you were going to work it.
An honest day's work for an honest day's wage."
An honest day's work for an honest day's wage."
Stine, who describes himself as a "run-of-the-mill-guy," graduated from undergrad at the University of Cincinnati. He worked full-time at Sakrete and attended Salmon P. Chase Law School at night and when he graduated in 1978, worked as an attorney in a private practice for two years.
He was hired as an assistant United States attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, the first full-time position in the Covington office. He worked there for 23 years.
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But by his account, he was getting burned out conducting long cases in federal court. Fate intervened at a Christmas party in the early 2003 when former Judge Kopowski told Stine he may be retiring early.
Ernie Fletcher had just taken office and was the first Republican Governor elected in Kentucky since Louis B. Nunn in 1967. With Stine's wife, Katie, a Republican stalwart in Frankfort since 1995, an appointment should have been a formality, but according to him, she wasn't able to do much to aid the process.
"Kate wasn't able to do much, frankly. She asked the ethics board what she could do and they told her that the only thing she could do was to tell the Governor that I was interested. So that's what she did," he said. "I had found out that the (judicial nominating commission) kind of liked the idea that I had been interested in Judge William Ware's job because of my litigation background and background with the United States attorney."
Stine, of course, did receive that nomination. He subsequently ran twice, unopposed.
"It was a new lease on life after being a U.S. attorney. I was very fortunate nobody ever ran against me. I was lucky to have my wife, who was a very popular office holder in this county, my father, who had long been a very popular office holder in this county and a pediatrician who was a doctor to half the people in the county. My brother, Tom also doctored a whole lot of younger people. I was kind of the namesake," he said.
"I was the beneficiary to all the people they knew and liked them," he said.
That humility is a cornerstone is Stine's courtroom. Attorneys across all political spectrums have admired Stine's kindness, collegiality and fairness which permeates his legal renderings and writing.
Fort Thomas attorney, Kurt Meier, said he knew of Stine during their high school years and he always knew him as "Fritz".
"When he was going to run for Campbell Circuit Judge, he asked if I would support him in spite of the fact that he was a registered Republican and I was a registered Democrat," said Meier. "I told him that I would be honored to and served on his campaign committee with great pleasure. Once he assumed the bench, I gave up my habit of calling him by his nickname and referred to him as “Judge Stine” from that moment forward.
I must admit that I am happy that I can soon revert back to my old ways of calling him “Fritz.”"
Stine said his appointment to his judicial seat was a new lease on life.
High Profile Cases
Right out of the gate, Stine presided over the high-profile murder trial of Amy Bosley.
She pled guilty to murdering her husband, Robert Bosley, a successful Alexandria businessman in their northern Kentucky cabin. She claimed an intruder broke into their home and killed her husband.
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As part of the agreement, Bosley was give the minimum sentence of 20 years for murder and five years for the tampering charge and her children did not have to testify in the case.
Stine said the differences in moving from the United States attorney's office to the state court system tested him during his first big case.
"If I had been made a federal judge I feel like I could have gone from my office at the US attorney's office one day to the bench the next and not missed a beat. I knew all the rules, procedures, cases and players. When I got to the state court, besides the law, I didn't know anything. I barely knew where my court room was," he said.
Stine said because the newness of the position during the Bosley case, a routine motion that might normally be considered and written about in an order might be discussed for an hour or more in his office.
"I just wasn't comfortable with fielding it immediately after I got on the bench. I wanted to have the time to ponder things. It was a big case with a lot of media attention and I guess I figured everyone would want to hear the answers right away. I don't know why I did it that way early on, but I learned a lot of state law during that case because of it. I was kind of learning as I went."
With just over a month to go in Stine's tenure, he's still presiding over high-profile cases.
Recently, he has ruled that Shayna Hubers, the Kentucky woman who was convicted in the shooting death of her on-again, off-again boyfriend Ryan Carter Poston, should get a new trial after officials discovered that a juror who helped find her guilty never disclosed that he was a felon.
Hubers was convicted last year of murdering Poston on Oct. 12, 2012.
Jurors convicted her of murder and recommended that she spend 40 years in prison, but among those jurors was a convicted felon, officials say. State law prohibits felons from serving on a jury.
The case had intense national media coverage and before he chose to retire, he had to make the decision to allow the retrial.
"I sure as heck didn't want to retry it again, but that's not why I'm retiring," said Stine.
"When the motion for a new trial to vacate the conviction and sentence to grant her a new trial was issued, I thought 'please, don't let it be so.' But the law in Kentucky was pretty clear. I had to set it aside. That's following the law. I didn't really want to do it. There were some people who may wonder about that decision, but it's the law. It wasn't my opinion," he said.
Stine said he first thought about the families involved on both sides.
"I think everyone in that place tends to think of their circumstance first, but then you think about the litigators, and your attention of course turns to the two families involved. It would be hard on any family, but particularly the Poston family. It was their worst nightmare coming true.
But you are elected to follow the law. My job is not to consciously make law or to bend to the public will. I'm elected to do the right thing, legally speaking.
Stine said that the high-profile cases like can sometimes be consuming.
"You have this consciousness in the back of your mind that everyone's watching what you're doing," he said. "Of course they aren't. They're watching the litigators and the people on trial, but when the national press has its eyes on the trial you're in, it can wear on you, but you can't let it affect you. I've had my fair share but it's all luck of the draw."
Michelle Snodgrass, has spent a lot of time in Stine's courtroom as Campbell County Commonwealth's Attorney, including working on both the Bosley case and Hubers case. She said that she was most appreciative of Stine's consistency and reliability.
"He has made a career out of serving the public, both as a prosecutor and as a judge, and his commitment to this community has been unwavering," she said. "It has been an honor to practice in his courtroom. Fred Stine is a truly kind man and, as a lifelong resident of Campbell County, I cannot thank him enough for his service."
Stine, who characterizes himself as a "Goldwater-Republican", has a calm demeanor in the courtroom. Speaking to his colleagues, a word that comes up often is "collegial".
"It doesn't take a big case to have an interesting legal issue," he says.
The preparation and care that he employs to each case is evident. You hear that when he lights up when talking about a civil case that most won't remember in the same way people remember the Bosley or Hubers trials.
The case involved a Wilder man suing his insurance company because a property he owned formally had a gas station on it, which required additional restrictions the government laid upon it for use.
"This was new law and the rulings caused me to distinguish myself a bit from different cases. The things I leaders at the Federal level came into play."
The ruling has held up through the Court of Appeals and was featured in the industry-specific magazine, Reason.
So what's next for Stine?
A cruise. Spending time with his family; his brother, wife and kids. He wants to bike more, golf more, travel more and do some outreach.
"Part of me is uncertain though. I can't believe I've practiced this long. So many times as a judge, I was just looking for souls to save. I'm just so curious about what happens next."