McCracken native Shea Nickell wins state supreme court seat

THOMAS DEAN STEWART | The Sun

Kentucky Judge Shea Nickell and his wife Dr. Carolyn Watson react to a warm welcome at Paducah's Elks Lodge Tuesday night as election results begin to roll in. Nickell was elected to represent Kentucky's 1st Judicial District on the state supreme court Tuesday, receiving 71,941 votes across the 24 counties, according to unofficial county-by-county results. His opponent, State Sen. Whitney Westerfield, totaled 53,497 votes.

Judge Shea Nickell, a native of McCracken County, was elected Tuesday to represent the state's 1st Judicial District as a justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court.

"When I chose a career in the law, I never anticipated that I would have the opportunity to sit on the highest court in the commonwealth," Nickell told The Sun in a phone interview. "I simply went into law to serve God and to serve his people in accordance with the greatest commandment."

Nickell received 71,941 votes across the 24-county judicial district, beating his opponent, Whitney Westerfield, who received 53,497, according to unofficial county-by-county totals.

The Paducah-born Nickell, 60, comes to the Kentucky Supreme Court after sitting on the Court of Appeals for over a decade, authoring hundreds of legal opinions during his tenure.

Throughout his career, the judge has worked in a variety of legal disciplines, working as an appellate judge for 13 years and practicing law for 23, appearing as a criminal defense attorney, prosecutor, insurance defense attorney and plaintiff's attorney, as well as in front of civil courts and administrative agencies. He has also served as an instructor at Murray State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"Every justice brings to the table their own personal and professional experiences," he said. "I've had the opportunity over the course of career to be involved with practically all aspects of the law.

"I think I bring a breadth of knowledge and experience to the court that I hope will be beneficial in the process of addressing the difficult questions and issues that are presented to the Kentucky Supreme Court."

Nickell will complete the term of Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Bill Cunningham, who retired in January after holding the post for 12 years. Gov. Matt Bevin appointed David Buckingham as the interim justice in March.

"I consider Justice Cunningham a friend and a mentor," Nickell said of filling revered justice's shoes. "I've had the privilege of working with him for these past 13 years and have gained much wisdom in simply listening to his words and watching his example."

Nickell graduated from DePauw University in Indiana in 1981, where he received degrees in communications and political science. He earned his juris doctorate from the University of Kentucky College of Law in 1984.

He and his wife, Dr. Carolyn Watson, still call Paducah home, and Nickell wants nothing more than to serve his neighbors well.

"I want to thank the people of western Kentucky for the faith that they have placed in me. Every day that I go to work I will do my best to live up to their trust, and at the end of the day I hope I have made them proud."

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