Fayette District Court operates at a hectic pace, where justice — for misdemeanors, traffic citations, small claims lawsuits, probate matters and juvenile cases — has to be both fair and efficient.
If the judge is mismanaging caseloads or creating unnecessary conflict, the courtroom can be extremely stressful for everyone.
Two siting judges, Maria Ransdell of Division 3 and Megan Lake Thornton of Division 5, are criticized in the newly released Fayette County Bar Association poll for being uncivil and not listening well.
The survey results concerning Ransdell are troubling enough that we cannot endorse her for reelection after 13 years on the bench. The courts would benefit by re-electing Thornton, who is also the court's chief judge.
While the survey shows respect for Ransdell's integrity and ethics, more than 40 percent polled viewed her decisions as not well-reasoned, clear or concise. More than half see her as not having the needed patience and temperament for the bench.
This is unfortunate for a judge who has a long history of service as a public defender and criminal defense attorney and as a civic advocate, especially for programs aimed at diverting youth from crime and prison. One root of the lawyers' discontent is that Ransdell often questions attorney and prosecutor decision-making. She sees that as part of her job; others view it as a form of humiliation that also makes the court day longer.
Her challenger is Kim Wilkie, who has been in private practice more than 25 years doing insurance law and criminal defense. Well-known in the legal community and ranking high in integrity and ethics on the bar survey, he could serve ably.
Thornton did not get the paper's endorsement in 2006 because of concerns about temperament, mostly because of a sharp tongue. That race, she said, made her reevaluate herself and bring a more positive attitude toward the job. The bar survey indicates she still has work to do when it comes to civility, but it gives her high marks for her ability to make well-reasoned decisions and communicate them in a clear and concise manner.
Challenger Ken Sanner, an attorney with the city's law department, is too inexperienced and too little known within the legal community to support over Thornton, who is a capable administrator. Also, the part of his work that includes fighting open-records requests to the government does little to recommend him.
The unendorsed candidates in these races may submit 250-word responses by noon Monday.