Judicial temperament and efficiency, especially at a time when Kentucky's court system is facing layoffs and program cutbacks, are two major issues in a race for district judge in Fayette County.
The non-partisan race for 22nd District, Division 3 pits incumbent Maria Ransdell, who has held the district judge post for 13 years, against lawyers Kim Wilkie and Joseph Rugg.
Ransdell, who has been on the ballot unopposed three times in the past, is banking on her experience to get re-elected. Wilkie and Rugg say they are running because new blood is needed.
"I'm running on her record — nothing else," said Wilkie, who maintains that Ransdell has not treated lawyers, litigants and courtroom personnel civilly in her courtroom. "Somebody's got to do it and I'm going to stand up against her and do it," he said.
"She's been on the bench for 13 years and she still doesn't have a hold on how to get through the docket," Rugg said. "I think Lexington can do better."
Ransdell said she has nothing to be defensive about when it comes to her courtroom demeanor or the time it takes for her to get through her dockets.
"I'm proud of the way I handle my courtroom and the attention and sometimes tough love that I give people," Ransdell said. "Being a judge is not always about making people happy. Nobody's perfect, but ... I've put my heart and my soul into the job and I've changed a lot of people's lives. I really am convinced of that."
Ransdell said she tries to be thorough in a very difficult job that involves making decisions that affect people's lives. And her thoroughness involves advising every person who comes to her court to enter a guilty plea of their rights, she said.
"I don't gloss over things," she added. "I do ask questions."
Ransdell came to Lexington from Louisville to attend the University of Kentucky and decided to stay. After graduating from the UK College of Law in 1979, she worked as a public defender. She later went into private practice. She was narrowly defeated by Laurance VanMeter in a race for a local district judge post in 1994. But the defeat didn't discourage her. Instead it made her want to be a judge even more, she said. She was appointed to fill an unexpired term as district judge by Gov. Paul Patton in 1997 and has been in that job ever since.
Ransdell is the only district judge that presides over the local district court's drug court, a sentencing alternative for people convicted of crimes that involves drug testing, counseling and court appearances. She also is one of the judges who presides over drug court in Fayette Circuit Court. She is active in Partners for Youth, a local coalition that works to improve the lives of economically disadvantaged youth, and she's the representative for district judges on the Kentucky Bar Foundation board.
Rugg said he's got "all kinds of great ideas" to improve district court. For one thing, he wants local district judges to be more accessible. Right now, people wanting to talk to judges in private have to talk to them through a glass window, he said. He thinks people should be allowed inside a judge's office to talk face to face.
He said if Fayette District Court loses its non-elected traffic court judges because of budget constraints, the elected district judges should handle traffic cases on a rotating basis or be assigned a specific day to preside over traffic court.
"I think I can be an asset to the community as a district court judge," Rugg said.
Rugg, a 1999 graduate of Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University, was a staff attorney for former Fayette Circuit Judge John Adams early in his legal career. In that job he helped handle appellate issues arising from district court. Later, from 2001 to 2006, he was an assistant Fayette County attorney, spending "every waking moment in district court."
"I spent all of my energy prosecuting cases, getting to know the district court system," Rugg said. "I really committed myself as a public servant then." He said that toward the end of his prosecuting career, he felt that the community at large could benefit from him being on the bench.
Rugg has been in private practice for the past three and a half years.
Kim Wilkie, a 1980 graduate of the UK College of Law, has been in private practice for the past 25 years or so, spending much of that time doing insurance defense work, as well as some criminal defense work. Before that, he was a local public defender for several years.
"Right now it's pretty much an even split between civil cases and criminal work," he said.
Wilkie said that there's not a whole lot that can be done to change the district court system, but that the way people are treated can be changed and he's the person to do it.
"I'm going to treat people with respect and dignity — the way anybody would want to be treated," he said. "You can get through a district court docket by being civil to people, by being polite to people and by hearing everything that needs to be heard."
"I know what good judges do," he said.
Wilkie said he became convinced that Fayette County needed a new judge in the Third District several months ago when he appeared before Ransdell in a case. He said he didn't believe a lot of the stories he had heard about the judge before that.
"I thought it might be sour grapes," he said.
Wilkie said being a candidate in the judge's race is costing him when it comes to his civil and criminal practice.
But, he said, "It's the right thing to do."
Born June 2, 1953
1108 Fincastle Road
Received degree in American studies from the University of Kentucky in 1975. Received Juris Doctorate from UK College of Law in 1979.
Married to William Broberg. Has a stepson, William Broberg II, and a step-granddaughter, Lucy Broberg.
Web site: judgeransdell.com
Born Oct. 28, 1949
3116 Chatham Drive
Received bachelor's degree in English from the University of Kentucky in 1975. Received bachelor's degree in political science from UK in 1977. Received Juris Doctorate from UK College of Law in 1980.
Married to Donna Wilkie. Has a grown son, Christopher Wilkie, and a grown daughter, Emily Wilkie.
Web site: wilkieforjudge.com
Born July 6, 1974
1165 Indian Mound Road
Received bachelor's degree in history from Marquette University in 1996. Received law degree from Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University in 1999.
Married to Dr. Sarah Rugg. Has two young daughters, Katherine Emily Rugg and Madeline Grace Rugg.
Web site: joeruggfordistrictjudge.com
district judge candidates
Fayette District Court, Third Division