Military Wiki
John S. Palmore
Born (1917-08-06)August 6, 1917
Panama Canal Zone
Died July 4, 2017(2017-07-04) (aged 99)
Frankfort, Kentucky, U.S.
Alma mater University of Louisville School of Law
Predecessor Scott Elgin Reed
Successor Robert F. Stephens
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Carol Pate Palmore

John S. Palmore (August 6, 1917 – July 4, 2017) was a Justice of the Kentucky Court of Appeals from 1959 until it became the Supreme Court of Kentucky in 1975, and on the latter court until his retirement, in 1982. He served as Chief Justice in 1966, in 1973, and from 1977 to 1982.

Early life

Palmore's grandfather, Andrew Houston Palmore, was a member of the 5th Cavalry Regiment of the Union Army during the American Civil War.[1]

Palmore's family moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky, in 1929, and he graduated from Bowling Green High School in 1934.[1] He then enrolled at Western Kentucky University and also joined the National Guard.[1] After two years at Western Kentucky, he matriculated to the University of Louisville School of Law.[1] In 1939, he graduated cum laude from law school.[1]

Palmore began the practice of law in Henderson, Kentucky, but suspended his practice to serve in World War II.[1] On his return from the war, he served as city attorney for Henderson.[1] On January 2, 1954, he began a two-year term as city attorney for Sebree.[2]

Political career

After the death of 5th district circuit judge Marlin L. Blackwell in 1955, Governor Earle C. Clements appointed the district's Commonwealth's attorney, Faust Y. Simpson, to the judgeship and Palmore as the new Commonwealth's attorney, possibly as a reward for supporting Clements' ally, Bert T. Combs, in the 1955 Democratic gubernatorial primary against Clements' factional foe, A. B. "Happy" Chandler.[3] Palmore began his service on October 12, 1955, and was immediately tasked with prosecuting a high-profile murder case against Ben Charles Sitton, who was accused of killing police officer Jack Rainier during a traffic stop.[4] The Fraternal Order of Police, concerned that Palmore's inexperience would result in Sitton's acquittal, asked Palmore to allow a more experienced attorney to try the case, but Palmore refused.[5] On January 27, 1956, after just over three hours of deliberation, a jury returned a guilty verdict against Sitton and recommended a death sentence.[5] The verdict was overturned on a technicality, and Palmore was forced to try it again, winning a second conviction on June 29, 1956; the second jury recommended a sentence of life imprisonment.[6]

Between the two Sitton trials, Palmore faced a challenge in the Democratic primary from State Representative Carl D. Melton.[6] Melton was a Chandler ally, while Palmore had sided with Clements.[6] Chandler hailed from Henderson County, the most populous county in the district, while Clements was from neighboring Union County, the district's second most populous.[6] Due to the population and advantage and Chandler's decisive victory over Combs in the previous year's gubernatorial primary, Melton was expected to defeat Palmore easily.[6] Palmore's successful prosecution of Sitton, combined with a strong turnout in Union County, helped him to a 626-vote victory in the primary, which was the de facto general election in the heavily Democratic district.[6]

Palmore continued as Commonwealth's attorney until he was elected to the Kentucky Court of Appeals in 1959.[7] In 1966 and 1973, he served as the court's chief justice.[7] In 1969, Palmore chaired a 10-person committee charged with revising the Kentucky Criminal Code.[8]

In 1976, an amendment to the Kentucky Constitution renamed the court to the Kentucky Supreme Court and created a new Court of Appeals below it. Palmore and the other justices on the old Court of Appeals were retained on the Kentucky Supreme Court.[7] Palmore served as the court's chief justice from 1977 until his retirement in 1982.[7] In his judicial career, he wrote more than 800 opinions.[7]

Later life

After his retirement, Palmore became a legal advisor to then-Lieutenant Governor Martha Layne Collins.[9] When Governor John Y. Brown, Jr. fell critically ill following heart surgery in 1983, Palmore advised Collins to take the role of acting governor.[9] After Collins was elected governor, her administration hired Palmore to represent the state in several legal cases.[9] Under a standard practice of rejecting all personal services contracts that paid more than $75 per hour, a legislative committee initially rejected Palmore's contracts, which paid $125 per hour, but Collins representatives overruled them.[9]

In 1984, Palmore moved back to Henderson and re-opened his law practice.[10] Later that year, he was named to the board of regents for Western Kentucky University, where he served until 1988.[1] He was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree from Eastern Kentucky University in 1984.[11] In 1986, he moved back to Central Kentucky to join his son, John W. Palmore, in the Lexington law firm of Jackson, Kelly, Williams & Palmore.[12] He considered running for governor in 1987, but ultimately decided to manage the campaign of former Governor Julian Carroll.[10][13]

Palmore received the Brandeis Medal from the University of Louisville School of Law in 1987 and was named an Alumni Fellow in 1993.[1] Also in 1993, he was inducted into the Western Kentucky University Hall of Distinguished Alumni.[1] For his defense of freedom of the press, he was given The First Prize by the Louisville chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.[1]

In retirement, Palmore began writing history books.[1] He also published two autobiographies, An Opinionated Career: Memoirs of a Kentucky Judge in 2003 and From the Panama Canal to Elkhorn Creek in 2006. In 2014, Palmore was inducted into the Kentucky Bar Foundation's "Senator Henry Clay Circle".[7] His wife, Carol Pate Palmore, died December 6, 2015.[14] Palmore died on July 4, 2017, one month before his 100th birthday.[15]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 Gaines, Jim (November 15, 2003). "Influential Kentucky appeals judge pens his memoirs". Bowling Green, Kentucky.,1767381&hl=en. Retrieved May 25, 2016. 
  2. "City Attorney Named". Danville, Kentucky. November 13, 1953. Retrieved June 8, 2016. 
  3. Wiederstein, Rob (January 2016). "The Murder of Officer Jack Rainier and the Election of John Palmore". Kentucky Bar Association. pp. 1, 3. Retrieved May 25, 2016. 
  4. Wiederstein, Rob (January 2016). "The Murder of Officer Jack Rainier and the Election of John Palmore". Kentucky Bar Association. p. 1. Retrieved May 25, 2016. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Wiederstein, Rob (January 2016). "The Murder of Officer Jack Rainier and the Election of John Palmore". Kentucky Bar Association. p. 2. Retrieved May 25, 2016. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Wiederstein, Rob (January 2016). "The Murder of Officer Jack Rainier and the Election of John Palmore". Kentucky Bar Association. p. 3. Retrieved May 25, 2016. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 "Retired Chief Justice John S. Palmore honored". Frankfort, Kentucky. June 14, 2014. Retrieved May 25, 2016. 
  8. "Ky. Criminal Code Will be Revised". Corbin, Kentucky. December 7, 1969. Retrieved June 8, 2016. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 "Former Chief Justice has Remained Controversial Figure". April 24, 1984. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Osborne, Diana Taylor (September 18, 1985). "Palmore Says He May Run for Governor". 
  11. "Graduation Ceremonies Held". May 13, 1984. 
  12. "Palmore joins Lexington law firm". June 1, 1986. 
  13. Rugeley, Cindy (October 14, 1986). "CARROLL PROMISES ANSWERS AFTER ELECTION". 
  14. Brammer, Jack (December 8, 2015). "Veteran state administrator Carol Palmore dies at 66". 
  15. John S. Palmore, former Ky. chief justice, dies at 99

Further reading

  • Palmore, John S. (2006). From the Panama Canal to Elkhorn Creek: A Chronicle of Life in the 20th Century by an Old Kentucky Lawyer. Butler Book Publishing. ISBN 1884532772. 
  • Palmore, John S. (2003). An Opinionated Career: Memoirs of a Kentucky Judge. Kentucky River Press. ISBN 0974528714. 
  • Palmore, John S. (2000). Riding with Sherman: The Civil War Travels of the Fifth Kentucky Cavalry, U.S.A.. 

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