It's experience versus experience in the November general election race for the Fifth Division Fayette District Court judge seat. Which of the two candidates wins might depend on what type of experience voters prefer.
Judge Megan Lake Thornton, who has held the seat for more than 13 years and serves as the county's chief district court judge, has spent her entire professional life doing law-related work, and she says that experience makes her the most qualified candidate.
Mike Sanner, an attorney for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, held a variety of jobs before graduating from law school in 1998, and he says the diversity of his life experiences makes him the best person for the job.
Before he became a lawyer, Sanner was a track star at the University of Kentucky and a professional bowler, did accounting and bookkeeping work for local country clubs and Nancy Barron & Associates, worked in commercial and industrial roofing, was a production line worker at Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola plants, and prepared horses for the Keeneland sales for area horse farms.
He also formerly coached the boys' distance track team at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, has been active in Little League Baseball and has been an assistant Cub Scout den leader. He's chairman of the Athens Christian Church board.
As a lawyer, Sanner has moved from private practice to public practice.
"The next logical step would be to move to district court judge," he said.
"You don't have to be an attorney all your life to be a district court judge," he said. "With my diverse background, I can more fully understand the effects my decisions will have on people."
He said he thinks he would bring a fresh perspective to the bench.
Sanner, the father of two young children, said public safety, drug abuse and domestic violence are big concerns.
Thornton said her campaign is focused on her experience as a judge.
"We really don't have any issues per se," Thornton said of the race between her and Sanner. "But I believe I'm the most qualified, based on my experience."
Thornton was a private attorney for 13 years, handling a variety of cases, before she became a judge. A lot of her work involved adoptions and real estate. While in private practice, she also worked as a domestic relations commissioner in Fayette Circuit Court.
She was an assistant Fayette County attorney for a couple of years early in her career.
"That gave me a broad base of experience as a lawyer," she said.
She was appointed to fill an unexpired term in district court in 1997 and has been chief judge of the local district court since 2003.
"A big part of what I do is I'm sort of the liaison for all of the players in our system," she said.
As chief judge, she's had to deal with the effects of court system budget cuts. Recently, funding for a traffic court commissioner was cut, and she helped put in place a new system for dealing with traffic cases. Now, many of those cases are handled at a window at the court clerk's office with a prosecutor there to assist.
"I think it's worked very well," Thornton said. "We didn't have a lot of choice."
Thornton describes herself as organized and efficient.
"I think that I am a firm judge, but I'm a fair judge. I think I'm consistent. I know I'm consistent in my rulings," she said.
The "crazy drama" that people see in television courtrooms doesn't happen and shouldn't happen in her courtroom, she said.
"I feel like I set the tone for the room in the way court is conducted. That's a part of our job," she said.
"The main difference between me and Mike is I'm a career lawyer and a career judge. That's what I bring to the table. I think I do a pretty good job and will continue to do it," Thornton said.
Reach Jennifer Hewlett at (859) 231-3308 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3308.