Xavier Magazine

Profile: Patricia M. Summe

Bachelor of Arts, Political Science, 1975
Chief Judge, Kenton County Circuit Court
Covington, Ky.

Recognition | Summe’s career on the bench has brought her a number of awards, including the Kentucky Bar Association’s 2009 Outstanding Judge Award, the 2006 Salmon P. Chase Alumni Association Exceptional Service Award, the 2003 Martin Luther King Award from the Kenton County Chapter of the NAACP and a 1998 Kentucky Post Woman of the Year award.

Xavier Roots | Summe was part of the second Xavier class to include women. A Northern Kentucky native, she followed her father and seven uncles to Xavier. She was not alone: Four of her five siblings attended either Xavier or Edgecliff.

Xavier Days | “It was all a very wonderful time. I enjoyed the socializing. I enjoyed Dana’s. I enjoyed the football games, because there were still a few. I enjoyed the basketball games. I enjoyed going to class with young men—I’d come from an all-female environment. So that was very challenging and also very heartening because you started to exercise your intellectual abilities.”

Embracing Law | Summe worked as a legal secretary in her father’s law office during her last two years at Xavier. Somewhere in her final year, she decided to give law a try as a career choice. “I thought, ‘If I really like it, if it’s what I’m supposed to do, then fine. If not, then I’m going to walk away.'” By her second year of law school she was hooked. “Before you know it, you’re thinking as they want you to think, and you can’t think about being anything else.”

Plans Interrupted | Following law school, Summe worked with her father for 18 months. She was looking to move to a larger firm with more opportunities for litigation when her father died, after which she and her brother, Peter Summe, continued his practice. During those years, Summe gained experience representing several cities as well as family law and real estate law.

Approaching the Bench | “About 17 years ago, I decided being a judge would be a good fit for me. So I ran for office, and I lost. The next judgeship that became available was this one, and because my name was out there, it made it easier to run for this position.” Summe was elected to the bench in 1994.

On the Docket | The court did not keep statistics on case loads until 2001, but since then, Summe has tried 129 cases, including three death penalty cases. One of those resulted in a death sentence, which was negotiated to life without parole when the defendant agreed to testify against a co-defendant.

A Higher Power | Being a judge has “made my life calmer, more thoughtful, harder in some ways because you are making tougher decisions than most people have to make. Death penalty cases are things that you really have to think about and pray about. You have a larger opportunity to be thoughtful about the decisions that you make, which is something that the Jesuit education was always about—thought.”

Adult Behavior | Summe is known as a no-nonsense judge. “I was always taught that I had to be responsible for my own actions. I expect everybody to act like adults. To that extent, I think people need to be truthful with themselves. So when someone says to me, ‘Judge, it was a mistake,’ I say, ‘No, it’s not a mistake, it’s a crime. Let’s all be real clear what we’re talking about.'”

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