Lexington attorney Vincent Riggs has not yet been elected Fayette County Circuit Court clerk, but he is already 30 days into an exhaustive training session to take the office over.
Riggs, 43, is the only candidate on Tuesday's ballot seeking the position, which has been held for the past two six-year terms by Wilma Lynch. The job pays a maximum of $94,427 a year; Riggs said he will start at about $86,000 a year.
Lynch, 59, said she decided to retire this year to spend more time with her family. She has worked in the Circuit Court Clerk's office since 1973 and has been its elected leader since 2001.
While Lynch has been counting down the days to retirement and tying up loose ends, Riggs has been learning the day-to-day jobs of many of the 118 employees he soon will oversee in the Fayette County District and Circuit courthouses.
"I think it will be a smooth transition," he said. "Obviously, I've got some big shoes to fill. Somebody that's been here 39 years, that's a long time. I've been pretty fortunate that Mrs. Lynch allowed me to come in and train."
The circuit court clerk is the keeper of the legal records in Fayette County. The office is responsible for filing and organizing tens of thousands of court filings yearly in Fayette District and Circuit courts, and taking payments of fines, issuing driver's licenses and other duties.
Riggs said he decided to run for the position at the suggestion of clerk's office employees, with whom he dealt almost daily as an attorney.
He has practiced family law in Lexington for the last six years. He graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2001 and obtained a law degree from the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va., in 2006.
Most of the cases he handled were divorces, domestic violence and child custody battles. He became interested in family law because his mother was a victim of domestic violence, he said, and his father left the family when Riggs was young. Riggs' mother raised Riggs, his brother and his sister by herself.
"We were pretty poor. We struggled quite a bit, and there were times where we didn't have a lot to eat," he said. "So family law just appealed to me. It's a stressful part of the law. Not a lot of attorneys want to practice in that area."
After graduating from Lafayette High School, Riggs worked for about 20 years at Kroger stores in Lexington to put himself through college. He takes his status as a self-made man seriously, especially when many of his peers from Lexington's poorer neighborhoods wind up in the court system for very different reasons.
"Even my first year as an attorney, I worked a part-time job, so I'm not too prideful there," he said. "But it's important to me that if you work hard, you put the work in, you'll get somewhere."
His schedule leaves little time for hobbies. In his free time, Riggs takes care of his dogs, a schnauzer and a puggle (a crossbreed between a pug and a beagle), and he volunteers at community events around the Westminster Village Apartments, where he grew up.
"That sounds kind of boring, doesn't it?" he said.
But Riggs' work ethic is what Lynch says makes him a good fit for the job. Riggs has "kept his shoulder to the wheel" while training for the last month, and he'll be more than ready when he takes office Jan. 1, Lynch said.
That will leave Lynch better prepared to enjoy her retirement, she said. Her plans include traveling with her husband, Greg, and preparing for the summer wedding of her daughter, Meredith.
She does not plan to seek another job.
To commemorate the end of nearly four decades of service, Lynch's employees bought her an Amazon.com gift card, which she used to buy Rod Stewart's new Christmas album. She said her peers might be planning a going-away party, because Fayette Circuit Court Judge Sheila Isaacs came into her office and mysteriously asked to borrow all her framed photos. (Riggs is mum on the issue.)
Riggs, meanwhile, is looking for a career that will be as fulfilling as Lynch's, if not quite as long.
"I plan on doing it till I retire," he said.