Fayette County

District court candidates debate

Eight attorneys running for a Fayette District Court seat debated their qualifications and ways to make the court system more efficient Wednesday night at a candidate forum at the Central Library.

The debate, sponsored by the Lexington Public Library and League of Women Voters of Lexington, sparked few disagreements.

Lawyers George Allgeier, Kimberly Henderson Baird, Julie Muth Goodman, Keith Horn, Sally Manning, Joyce Merritt, Daniel Miller and John Tackett are running in November to fill the remainder of retired Judge David Hayse's term.

Goodman was appointed by Gov. Steve Beshear to serve in Hayse's seat until the Nov. 4 election.

District court judges oversee traffic cases, misdemeanors, small claims court, probate matters, juvenile court and civil lawsuits involving less than $4,000.

The candidates were asked what could be done to reduce the cost of court administration. Each candidate gave a different answer — a few of which they would not have the power to act on if elected.

Merritt said criminal court dockets should be scheduled by last name. She also suggested that Kentucky move to electronic case filing, which the federal courts and other states have had for years.

Manning, a former Fayette County prosecutor, noted that police officers are regularly paid overtime to testify in district court. They can sometimes wait hours before they testify, and sometimes are asked to come back later in the day. She said scheduling needs to be improved.

Tackett, a criminal defense attorney, said judges need to consider alternative sentencing and pre-trial monitoring through ankle bracelets to ease jail overcrowding on the weekend, when arrests are more frequent.

Goodman noted that the legislature has not increased the number of district judges in Fayette County, despite steady growth in population and case loads. She noted that Administrative Office of the Courts handles budgetary matters.

Horn, an attorney for the city of Lexington, noted that AOC spending on courthouse projects is not subject to the Kentucky open records act. He said the public should have the legal right to inspect those records.

Allgeier was asked what can be done to provide wider access to the court system.

He noted that many people who have cases in district court do not have lawyers. He said it is important for judges to ask the right questions so "that all the facts are brought out and the issues are properly formed so the judge can make a good decision."

Baird was asked what factors should be considered in setting sentences for criminals.

She said she would consider the seriousness of the crime and the defendant's criminal history. She also added that it is important to ask the victim for input, particularly since victims often feel the system is stacked against them.

Miller asked voters to consider the candidates' volunteer experience. He said he is a volunteer Cub Scout and Girl Scout leader.