Justice Christopher Shea Nickell was elected to the Supreme Court of Kentucky in November 2019. He serves the First Supreme Court District, which is composed of the twenty-four westernmost Kentucky counties. Justice Nickell previously served 13 years as a Judge of the Kentucky Court of Appeals, having been elected in November 2006, and being unopposed for re-election in November 2014. During his tenure on the Court of Appeals, Justice Nickell served as Chief Judge Pro Tempore, Chair of the Personnel Committee, and a member of the Judicial Compensation Commission.
Prior to becoming an appellate judge, Justice Nickell practiced law 22 years. Licensed to practice law before all Kentucky state and federal trial and appellate courts and the United States Supreme Court, he served as a Kentucky trial attorney, an Assistant Commonwealth Attorney (21st Judicial Circuit), an Assistant McCracken County Attorney, and a Public Advocate. He also served as an instructor at Murray State University (Insurance and Risk Management) and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (Jurisprudence). In 1995, the Kentucky Bar Association named him the “Outstanding Kentucky Young Attorney.”
A native of McCracken County, Justice Nickell graduated from Paducah Tilghman High School in 1977. He earned a bachelor’s degree from DePauw University in 1981, with a double major in communications and political science. At DePauw, he served as Student Body President, Editor of a campus newspaper, and was awarded “The Walker Cup,” presented annually by the faculty to the graduating senior who has contributed most to the campus community. He subsequently served on the University’s Board of Trustees. In 1984, he earned his juris doctor degree from the University of Kentucky College of Law, where fellow law students elected him President of the Student Bar Association.
Justice Nickell currently serves as an International Director for Lions Clubs International, the world’s largest humanitarian service club with 1.35 million members in more than 45,000 clubs. In 2011, he served on the Rules Committee of the 94th International Convention in Seattle, Washington; in 2013, he served on the Nominating Committee of the 96th International Convention in Hamburg, Germany; and in 2017, he served as Co-Parliamentarian and Chair of the District Governor’s Banquet of the 100th International Convention in Chicago, Illinois. He has also served as President of the Kentucky Lions Eye Foundation, Council Chair for Multiple District 43 (Lions of Kentucky), District Governor for District 43K (western Kentucky), and President of the Paducah Lions Club. He is a Melvin Jones Fellow, a Finis E. Davis Fellow, and was named to the Kentucky Lions Hall of Fame in 2015.
Justice Nickell has also been involved in numerous other civic organizations. An Eagle Scout, he formerly served on the board of the Shawnee Trails Boy Scout Council. A lecturer on regional history, he has served on the board of Paducah’s Market House Museum and is a member of the Sons of the American Revolution. Active in various environmental and sporting organizations, he is a Life Sponsor of Ducks Unlimited. He is also a 32 Degree Mason, a Silver Life Member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a Life Fellow of the Kentucky Bar Foundation, a Gideon, and a deacon at Paducah’s Heartland Church. A popular soloist, song leader, and speaker at numerous civic, religious, and sporting events, he previously served as Music Director at Paducah’s Concord United Methodist Church and First Baptist Church.
Justice Nickell is married to Dr. Carolyn Sue Watson, a Paducah pathologist, former Vice Chair of the Kentucky Medical Association Board of Trustees, and Music Director at Paducah’s Highland Baptist Church. His first wife, Lana Jean King Nickell, an educator, died in 2001. He is the son of the late Carl Duane “Red” Nickell and Anna June Starrett Nickell, both former educators.