A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

A special tribute to and remembrance of Frank O. Trusty, caring man who pursued truth, sought justice

By Robert E. Sanders
Special to NKyTribune

Judge Frank O. Trusty, II, was born in the small town of Jackson, Breathitt County, in the mountain region of Eastern Kentucky on July 2, 1939. Those who knew Judge Trusty could always recognize him by his distinctive and charming Eastern Kentucky accent, which he never lost.

He died at home in the company of his beloved wife, Marilyn (nee: Carpenter) and family in Park Hills, Kenton County, Kentucky, on June 8, 2017, after an illness he had struggled with for several months. He was 77.

Frank Trusty

Between his birth and death, Judge Trusty lived a life of dedicated public service. He served as a judge on both the Kenton Circuit Court and the Kenton District Court from 1991 through 2012.

When news of his illness became known, many friends sent messages of support and shared memories of Judge Trusty’s life.

Attorney Mike Plummer recounted what his aunt, who knew Judge Trusty from his early childhood in Jackson, said, “Frankie was the arguingest little boy I ever met.”

Tommy Noble, another Jackson friend from a later part of Judge Trusty’s childhood said, “I remember Frank as a pool lifeguard who really liked his tan. He also enjoyed school and had ambition. I spoke to him several years ago about his family and his years in Jackson. He was very intelligent and dedicated to his craft, yet always was friendly and ‘down to earth.’”

His ability to argue, his intelligence, and love of learning served Frank Trusty well a few years later when he went to the University of Kentucky. He graduated from the U.K. Law School in 1964 and passed the Kentucky bar. Upon becoming a lawyer, Frank’s job search brought him to Northern Kentucky where he interviewed with and was hired by the firm of Hughes, Clark & Burke (now known as Ziegler & Schneider). After a few years in private law practice, Frank decided to make a major change in the direction of his career.

A young Frank Trusty

Mer Grayson, former President of Peoples’ Liberty Bank in Covington recalls, “I remember having coffee with Frank at Lloyd’s restaurant, across the street from the bank in early 1970. Frank said he was leaving private practice to devote himself to public interest law as a prosecutor. He said that he would not make as much money, but he would be able to help more people and he would ‘make a difference.’ Frank was a really good man.”

In 1970, Judge Trusty became an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney for Kenton County. In 1976, he succeeded the man who had hired him, John “Jay” O’Hara, as the elected Commonwealth’s Attorney. Trusty served as the Commonwealth’s Attorney until 1983. During that time, he expanded the office from one assistant to ten and increased the support staff, as well. He initiated many innovative programs, including a Victim-Witness Assistance Bureau, to make interaction with the criminal justice system less difficult for innocent victims and witnesses; the Major Offender Program (MOP), a special prosecutor task force that targeted dangerous career criminals for special attention and aggressive prosecution; and educational programs for full and part-time police agencies. He made prosecutors available 24-7 for call-out to assist area police departments in the investigation of serious crimes. That program still continues in Kenton County. Trusty wrote the first policy and procedure manual for the prosecutor’s office, an operations handbook that, with modifications and updates, is still in use today and that has been copied and adopted by many prosecutors’ offices throughout Kentucky.

After leaving the post of Commonwealth’s Attorney, Trusty returned to private practice for a few years. He partnered with the late James Osborne and William Hillman to form Osborne, Hillman & Trusty. Their offices were in Covington through most of the time the firm existed. It was not long, however, before his sense of civic duty compelled Trusty to return to the public practice sector. This time, Judge Trusty took the exact opposite role from what he had done as Commonwealth’s Attorney (prosecutor). He became the first full-time Director of the Kenton County Public Defenders Program.

Frank Trusty and Robert E. Sanders being sworn in as pro bono publico Asst. Commonwealth’s Attorneys to Rob Sanders, by Kenton Circuit Judge Martin Sheehan.

He quickly took what had, for years, been a rotating roster of part-time, volunteer lawyers defending citizens charged with crimes, and turned them into a staff of full-time, professional, criminal defense lawyers. Just as he had done as a prosecutor, he trained his public defender staff to become effective, highly skilled trial lawyers. Many of Northern Kentucky’s best criminal defense lawyers were former assistants of Frank Trusty’s in either the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office or the Public Defender’s Program.

In 1991, his public service career took another significant change. He became “Judge Trusty” when he was elected to the Kenton District Court. He initially served as District Judge for three years, then was appointed fill a two-year vacancy on the Kenton Circuit Court. Following his Circuit Court years, Judge Trusty returned to the District Court Bench. He continued presiding over civil and criminal cases within the jurisdiction of the District Court until he retired from his judicial post in 2012.

Many of the lawyers who appeared in Judge Trusty’s court remember him as blunt, direct, and to-the-point—but always fair, impartial, and compassionate towards victims, witnesses, defendants, and parties. He expected lawyers to be prepared and to represent clients well. Judge Trusty was patient with young lawyers and helped them learn courtroom procedures, the skills of examining witnesses, and the art of effective argument.

Harry Hellings, one of the area’s top criminal defense lawyers and a former assistant prosecutor under Trusty said, “Frank was a great teacher. He had the ability to take brand new law school graduates or very young lawyers, and turn them into great trial attorneys. I am proud to say I am a graduate of the ‘Frank Trusty School of Trial Practice.’ He was a great mentor and friend. I will miss him.”

After retiring, Judge Trusty did not take much time off before returning to the courtroom as a pro bono publico (unpaid, volunteer “for the good of the public”) Assistant to Kenton Commonwealth’s Attorney, Rob Sanders. Judge Trusty held that volunteer position, prosecuting preliminary hearings and occasional district court trials from 2012 until he was sidelined near the end of 2016 by failing health.

“Frank was as wise as he was cantankerous. He had a quick wit and a servant’s heart. Whether his role was prosecutor, public defender, or judge, Frank pursued truth, sought justice, and worked to make our community a better place for all,” said Rob Sanders, Kenton Commonwealth’s Attorney.

Judge Trusty’s academic curiosity and love of learning never ended. Throughout many years, while he was carrying a full caseload and running either the prosecutor’s office, the Public Defenders’ Program, or judgeship, he attended Northern Kentucky University, where he studied science and earned a degree in Chemistry.

John Domaschko and Judge Trusty shared a passion for tennis and sometimes played one another at Fort Mitchell Country Club where they were both members. Domaschko said, “I always looked forward to the disconnect of hearing Frank’s thoughts on deep subjects like quantum physics articulated through his charming Jackson accent. Tennis was fun, but the conversation afterwards was why I was there. Frank was the best, a really good and interesting person.”

In addition to his beloved wife, Marilyn, Judge Trusty is survived by his sons, Frank O. Trusty, III; Michael Trusty; Stephen Trusty; and his step-son, Robert Bradford. All are married and have blessed Judge Trusty with grandchildren, Andrew, Bryndan, Hanna, Trevor, Luke, and Logan.

His son, Steve, speaking for his brothers, their wives, and children, said, “Our Dad was the best. We all loved him, and still do. He always made us know that he loved every one of us, too. We will miss him every day.”

Judge Trusty was active in many professional associations, including the American Judges’ Association; the Kentucky Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ Association (Past President); Kenton County Bar Association (President); and the National District Attorneys’ Association (State Director). His charitable and civic volunteer board memberships included Hope Cottage Board; NKY Mental Health/Mental Retardation Regional Board; Big Bone District, Boy Scouts of America (Chairman); Covington-Kenton County Jayceees (Vice President); Women’s Crisis Center; Northern Kentucky Community Center; Children’s Psychiatric Hospital; and the Wood-Hudson Cancer Research Laboratory, Inc.

At Judge Trusty’s specific request and direction, there will be no visitation, funeral service, or other organized memorial.

He directed that his body be donated to the University Of Cincinnati College of Medicine for organ and tissue transplantation and for use in training the next generation of physicians.

In death, as in every day of his life, Judge Trusty is more concerned about service to others than he is in attracting adulation or attention to himself. While he was home during his final days of hospice care, Judge Trusty, said, “Just tell anyone who wants to remember me in a meaningful way to make a donation to Wood-Hudson.”

He was, of course, speaking of the Wood-Hudson Cancer Research Laboratory, Inc., 931 Isabella Street, Newport, Kentucky 41071. For more information, call WHCRL at 859 581-7249.

Robert E. Sanders is a distinguished trial attorney. His law office is in Covington. He was a long-time friend of Frank Trusty.

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  1. Rick Reynolds says:

    Mr. Trusty was my business law professor in 1967 at the community college. He was smart and entertaining. A great man.

  2. Joe Wiehoff says:

    Mr. Trusty was a Great and Patient Man! He was always there for us as kids. He is an inspiration to us all! He is missed but never forgotten!…

    Joe Wiehoff

  3. Matt says:

    I had occasion to come before Judge Trusty regularly as a social worker doing child protective work in Northern Kentucky. He was always fair, patient and dedicated to ensuring that Kentucky’s children were safe and well cared for. He was among my favorite judges. He always knew my name and and was quick with a smile and friendly hello outside of the court room. He was a great man who never forgot his duties and while serious, never too serious. A dedicated public servant whom I am better off for having known.

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