Among the decisions on the ballot Tuesday, voters in Fayette County will have to choose between five people who are running to fill a circuit court judge vacancy until 2022.
The candidates are running to fill the remaining term of Circuit Court Judge Pamela Goodwine, who was elected in November to the state court of appeals. The open seat is in the circuit court’s fourth division.
Fayette County Circuit Court judges handle often-packed dockets, with cases ranging from felonies and capitol murder offenses to civil litigation. They are paid $127,733 a year.
The candidates up for the position include a current circuit court judge who was appointed to fill Goodwine’s seat until the election, a district court judge, private practice attorneys and a Fayette County prosecutor.
Judge John E. Reynolds
Reynolds has lived in Lexington since graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Law in 1997. He’s been married for 24 years and raised two boys in Lexington. One of his sons is a junior at Lexington Catholic and the other is a freshman journalism student at DePaul University in Chicago.
Reynolds worked as an attorney for a horse farm for about a year out of law school before working as a solo private attorney, where he tried personal injury cases, criminal cases and civil litigation cases. He said his goal was always to work cases that kept him in the courthouse and in front of juries.
In early 2018, Reynolds was appointed by Gov. Matt Bevin to fill the term of Circuit Court Judge James Ishmael Jr., who retired. Reynolds ran for the seat but was defeated by Judge Lucy VanMeter in November.
Less than six months later, Reynolds was appointed by Bevin again, this time to fill Goodwine’s seat.
“I’m the only one that has experience with the job, and all these folks that are running are all good folks, but honestly I don’t think they really appreciate what we do as circuit court judges,” Reynolds said. “Because two of them have just real estate, civil, civil transaction type stuff, they don’t try cases. We’re a trial court, so we preside over jury trials.”
Reynolds hopes that the typically liberal-leaning voters of Fayette County will not be put off by the fact he has been appointed by Bevin twice, saying that he had never met or interacted with Bevin before being appointed the first time.
“It’s not some sort of political cronyism or anything like that, it’s just that he is adamant about putting good judges on the bench, and our nominating committee has nominated some great people to the bench,” Reynolds said.
If elected, Reynolds said he will take into account the types of crime being sentenced before deciding whether incarceration or alternative sentencing is the answer.
“You have to look at nonviolent crimes different than violent crimes,” Reynolds said. “I mean, assault is one thing, a cold check – a mother of two that bounces a check – shouldn’t be held to the same bond or incarceration rate as a violent offender.”
Reynolds also said he is a proponent of alternative sentences for people who are addicted to drugs, and that he is encouraging the use of medically assisted treatment.
Overall, he said he hopes voters look into each candidate before making their choice of who to send forward from the primary.
“These are important jobs, they should know more than just name recognition,” Reynolds said. “I think if you know it’s a criminal job, if you know that your business as a circuit court judge is 75 percent felony criminal law, dealing with serious crimes, punishable from one year to capital punishment, I think we want judges that have criminal law experience and trial experience. There are some good lawyers that are running, but not necessarily with any criminal experience or any trial experience.”
Judge Julie Muth Goodman
Goodman, who has been serving as a district court judge in Fayette County for more than a decade, was born in Lexington. She went to Christ the King, Tates Creek High School and Transylvania University before going to law school at the University of Kentucky.
She interned and later worked at the Kentucky Office of Special Prosecutions, which is a unit that steps in when a local commonwealth’s attorney disqualifies from a case. There she worked under formerFayette County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Larson
Goodman remembers talking to a family friend, who was a Lexington attorney, before going to work for the special prosecutions unit.
“He goes, ‘Julie, you can’t do that,’ and ... I was thinking he was going to say ‘it’s dangerous, you’re in Eastern Kentucky, you’re doing violent crime,’ but he said, ‘oh, women don’t belong in the courtroom,’” Goodman said. “And I think about it a lot, throughout my career and I think, if I had chosen to be what (he) thought I should be I wouldn’t be here sitting on the bench, nor would I be asking the citizens of Lexington to vote for me for circuit.”
Goodman worked as a special prosecutor for four years, where she prosecuted three capital murder cases. She then went to a private practice as a litigator.
She and her husband moved for a while to New York, where she practiced in-house for an insurance firm. Through the job she supervised cases of legal malpractice in 18 states.
Goodman and her husband moved home to Lexington after having their son, Clay. At that point she went to work for Larson again, this time as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney. She went back to private practice and worked as a national litigator before becoming a district court judge.
Goodman volunteers in drug court, which allows people charged with felony drug offenses to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and then enter a strict program with mandatory drug testing and structured steps to get clean.
“We have so many people in our jails or in our system that are not criminals,” Goodman said. “They’re addicts, they have a disease.”
As a district court judge, Goodman said she’s seen that Fayette County jails are used to house the mentally ill and homeless.
“Our jails are way too over-crowded,” Goodman said. “Do I think that all non-violent crimes should be probated? Not necessarily. But I think that as our resources get smaller and smaller and our jails get more crowded, it used to be that when you put people in jail there were programs in there to help them, but we’re losing that ability. And unless we’re going to have an ability when they’re incarcerated to help them ... then we have to figure out a different way to do it.”
Goodman also said that she believes the position of circuit court judge has to be earned, preferably by going through district court.
“If you start in district court you learn about the community and you learn how people that maybe start in the district court wind up in the circuit court, and you have a grasp of what’s truly going on,” Goodman said. “And I don’t think any of us are entitled to it, I think we have to earn it and I would not if I didn’t think I earned it from my 28 years of experience practicing as a lawyer in Fayette County, in 18 counties in the state and in 24 states, that I had I right to ask. That and the fact I’ve been on this bench, which absolutely teaches you how to be a judge.”
Todd S. Page
Page has lived in Lexington all his life, with most of his time being spent in the north end of town. Page attended Bryan Station High School and went to Transylvania University on a full-ride scholarship before attending University of Kentucky law school.
He met his wife at Transylvania and has two children; a daughter who is now a freshman at Transylvania and a son who lives at home. His son, who is 22, has autism and the family is “working on his next step,” Page said.
Page has spent his 29-year career as a litigator in circuit courts. He is currently an attorney with Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC.
“I’ve seen what effective judges can do, and I’ve seen how ineffective judges can work to the detriment of the parties,” Page said. “So I think it’s important for the people of Fayette County to select a judge that has a lot of experience in the circuit courts.”
Page’s career has been focused in civil cases, but since becoming interested in running for a Circuit Court judge seat, he has given “a lot of time and thought to the criminal aspects of the job and how to do those effectively.”
With the issue of high incarceration rates, Page said he is concerned that in some cases incarceration is not the most effective way to prevent a person from re-offending. In drug cases in particular, Page said he thinks drug court should be the default.
As an attorney, it is Page’s job to advocate for his client. But he said he wants to be a circuit court judge because of his interest in finding the legally correct answer.
“What I like to do is find the correct answers,” Page said. “And I think that having done this for almost 30 years I think I’m very effective at finding the right answer. And I think that people of Fayette County would be well-served from the civil context with a judge that has my interests and has my background and will spend the time and the effort making sure, in the civil world, that the right answer was found.”
Page also said he thinks his lack of experience in criminal cases should not dissuade voters from choosing him for the position, pointing to judges Ishmael and VanMeter as examples of how successful attorneys with civil backgrounds can be in the position.
Thomas “Tommy” Todd
Todd was born in Lexington and attended Henry Clay High School before going to the University of Kentucky for undergraduate studies and the UK law school.
He practiced for seven years at a firm with his father, also a Lexington attorney, before moving on to other firms. He’s focused on complex real estate transactions and real estate and construction related disputes. He currently works with Kinkead & Stilz. In all, Todd has 33 years of legal experience.
During his time as an attorney, Todd has overseen a lot of mediations and been in front of planning commissions and the Fayette County Urban-County Council. He worked some family and criminal cases early in his career.
While the circuit court docket is made up largely of criminal cases, Todd said his lack of experience with those cases should not be a problem. Criminal cases that come before the court are not as complex and widely varied as civil cases, he said.
“The tough things I think are more of a human issue, not an academic issue,” Todd said.
Since announcing he would run for circuit court judge, Todd has sat in on criminal motion hours to familiarize himself with criminal proceedings. His wife was an assistant commonwealth’s attorney.
Todd said he thinks his experience, even temperament and ability to think things through logically make him the best candidate.
On the issue of incarceration, Todd said he’s not sure as a community that we have put enough energy and thought into how to deal with offenders who have mental illness or drug or alcohol problems.
“There is a certain percentage of criminal defendants in circuit court that are very dangerous people that we all want behind bars,” Todd said. “There’s a huge number of people that are addicted to alcohol, drugs ... and my view on the opioid epidemic and the general drug and alcohol problem as that most of these people need treatment and intervention more than they need incarceration.”
Stadler, who works as a prosecutor in the Fayette County Attorney’s Office, was born in Rhode Island before moving to Lexington when he was 2 years old.
He went to Christ the King and Lexington Catholic High School before going to the University of Notre Dame for undergraduate studies and Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.
His first job out of law school was working with a circuit court judge in Paducah. While in that position, Stadler said he knew he wanted to work toward being a judge himself. So he moved back to Lexington to get civil and criminal experience.
Stadler worked at an insurance defense firm before moving to the Fayette County Attorney’s Office. He started off in the child support division and moved on to try criminal cases in district court as a prosecutor.
Stadler was also appointed to prosecute some federal and circuit criminal cases, including a capital murder case and federal gun and drug cases.
“I think I’m the best candidate because of my career of public service and service to this community, I believe we should have a circuit judge who’s been connected to the community,” Stadler said.
Stadler said he’s seen many people come through district court who are addicted to drugs. As a judge, he said he would consider alternative sentencing in some drug cases.
“I think we need to address the root causes of the problem and not unnecessarily punish offenders,” Stadler said.
Within his work in the Fayette County Attorney’s Office, Stadler has represented city agencies in civil matters in addition to criminal prosecution.
“Having a judge who understands the law and can cut through some of the other stuff is important,” Stadler said of civil cases. “But then on the criminal side, I’ve got a background, I know a number of things about Lexington, about our gang population, about our community, it gives me some insight that I think some of the others maybe don’t have regarding violent offenders.”
For more information on how and where to vote go here.