News and Tribune


June 15, 2013

DODD: Sleight-of-hand ... and personality

“My wife describes me as a sanguine want to be trapped in a phlegmatic's body” — Magistrate A - Judge Ken Abbott

I remember Ken Abbott from high school although we did not know each other well. We shared a girlfriend in high school. No, I mean we had a girlfriend in common. Never mind.

The point is I remember he was a quiet and I figured kind of shy person. It turns out I was not only right in that appraisal, but probably did not understand just how shy he was. I don’t call him Ken now on most weekdays. I usually refer to him as Judge Abbott of the Magistrate A courtroom in the Clark County courthouse.

Judge Abbott and I had a wonderful discussion this past week about personality traits and overcoming what can be seen as obstacles. Abbott still admits to being socially awkward at public gatherings. He even told me he can become emotional discussing how he can still become uncomfortable and almost scared in a social setting. He says it can be embarrassing.

There are two things about his life that almost belie that characteristic. I have been in Judge Abbott’s courtroom and observed him in action from the bench. Even more unexplainable is a second kind of profession he has pursued for the last 15 years. Ken Abbott has been performing magic.In fact, he has been a very successful, accomplished sleight-of-hand magician.

Abbott has won the Louisville Magic Club Close-Up Magic Competition four times. He was for a few years the “house” magician who performed for the Indiana Pacers basketball and the football Colts games showing off his slight-of-hand skills in the luxury suite boxes. He also did the same for a season for the Indiana Fever team.

How does a shy almost totally introverted person explain being a sitting judge and a live performing magician?

“When I put the robe on I know what my job is — I know what the rules are and I have a sense of confidence.” As for the live performing, “Magic is sort of a stress reliever; my chance to be somebody else for a while.”

In no way do I want the lack of socializing skills or shyness to take away from the fact that Ken Abbott is very intelligent person who has worked hard at both of his successful professions. In fact, when asked how he became a lawyer, he tells a story about a friend who had decided to take the LSAT (Law School Acceptance Test) and on a whim he joined him and passed. He only applied to one law school and was accepted at the University of Louisville.

His interest in magic was ignited by a magic shop on Spring Street in Jeffersonville where he met the entrepreneur and magician Guy Townsend who himself was almost ironically a retired prosecutor. Soon they had both the law and a love of magic in common. For the next five or six years Abbott usually would spend about four days each week at the shop on his lunch hour learning new tricks.

He also performed his first serious magic trick for me that he calls, “Twisting the Aces” where he manipulates the four Aces seemingly at will face-up or face down. He told me he practiced that trick about three hours per evening for about six months to feel comfortable performing it in front of people.

He recalls it was his family who forced him to go public.

“That’s how you start doing magic shows. Your family gets tired of the act.” Although as daughters Kelsey and Holly got older some of their friends did appreciate the free shows. Both daughters also became performers. Kelsey is an accomplished singer/songwriter and two seasons ago Holly made it to Hollywood Week on the American Idol television show. Abbott describes his wife of 26 years, Leila, as the “total opposite” of his personality, being very outgoing and personable in a crowd.

We shared a laugh when he told of how often in public he can be the victim of mistaken identity since the appointed magistrate judge sits in often for the elected circuit court judges. People who were in front of him on the bench often just remember the name of the judge in that particular court, “A lot of people know me but they know me by a name plate.”

Abbott is remarkably personable and even has shown a good sense of humor to me personally when I have conversed with him professionally in his office. I will admit that he took on a noticeable personality change; one of total control and confidence when he began performing his act. My advice if you meet him at a party or other public gathering and see him standing alone in a corner, just walk up and ask him a variation of the old cliché' of an opening magician’s line, “Do you have anything up your sleeve?”

With Ken Abbott, that’s a real conversation starter. As for the opening quote, well, you older readers look the words up in you Encyclopedia Britannica; you younger people just Google them. Grandpa, explain Encyclopedia to your grandkids or let them Google it as well.

Abbott wanted me to let everyone know that Louisville is hosting a very prestigious event this weekend called the Louisville International Festival of Magic. While not performing among what he calls, “the 25 best magicians in the world,” he is volunteering to work the event.

Headliners include two native Louisvillians who became major Las Vegas attractions — Lance Burton and Mac King. The shows will be held in small venues in downtown Louisville through Sunday and for more information you can visit the Louisville Festival of Magic website.

— Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at


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