In Kentucky, nonpartisan district court judges are elected to four-year terms. These judges are responsible for “juvenile matters, city and county ordinances, misdemeanors, violations, traffic offenses, probate of wills, arraignments, felony probable cause hearings, small claims involving $2,500 or less, civil cases involving $5,000 or less, voluntary and involuntary mental commitments and cases relating to domestic violence and abuse,” according to the Kentucky Court of Justice.
To qualify as a district court judge, candidates have to be U.S. citizens and have both lived in the district and been licensed to practice law for two years.
Jefferson County is in the 30th Judicial District — there are 17 divisions within that district, and every voter in the county gets to cast a vote for every division.
In Jefferson County’s 3rd Division, District Court Judge Sandra McLaughlin isn’t seeking re-election, so the seat is open.
Vying for the position are two attorneys: Tracy Davis and Kristina Garvey. Davis has been in private practice for the last five years, and Garvey currently works as a prosecutor with the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office.
At a judicial forum held last month by the League of Women Voters, both candidates answered randomly-selected questions posed by a moderator. Listen or read their answers below, which have been edited for clarity.
“I am Tracy Davis and I’m running for district court judge. I am from Louisville, Kentucky. I was born and raised in Germantown but we called it Schnitzelburg. Graduated from Meyzeek [Middle School] in the [Mathematics/Science/Technology] program, then went on to Manual [High School]. Went on to UK, and then finally I graduated from Chase College of Law.
“The reason that I tell you that is because on the first day of school, my senior year in 1996 at DuPont Manual High School at 3:20 p.m., I gave birth to my first child. I was the president of everything you can think of. I was on the beta club, I was on the drama team. I did all kinds of things. My parents instilled in me hard work. I made a mistake, but I was still a child. And so my parents raised me to continue to be a child and to do everything that I could do to be a better parent to my child. So my senior year I had calculus, I had social studies; you name it, I did it, biology, all of that. And I got a scholarship and I drove right up to the University of Kentucky.
“At that point in time, I majored in finance. I went on to be very involved there. I pledged in the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, which is a service-oriented organization where we give back. I stayed involved in my community. I got married. I had two more children. Returned back to Louisville, Kentucky, got a divorce, worked full time in corporate America and became a single parent. I did not return to law school until about four years later; my children were seven, eight and 11. I just knew I was going to go to UK or U of L, but U of L ended their night program.
“So I found out about Chase, which is Salmon P. Chase College of Law, which was all the way in Highland Heights, Kentucky, — 97 miles from my house, and I commuted for four straight years, from Louisville, Kentucky, up to Chase to earn my juris doctorate. It was that important to me. I took my kids to school in the daytime, I worked 40 full hours a week. And then I took my kids to daycare or to my parents’ house and I made that drive every single night. Classes were from 6:30 p.m. until 9:15. I made Dean’s list. I was on the trial competition team. I was in the trial advocacy program, I was an extern at the public defender’s office, you name it. I did it because I was a hard worker and being an attorney was my goal.”
“I’m currently a domestic violence prosecutor at the county attorney’s office. We handle cases every day in the conference rooms in the courtrooms of district court. Before I went into our domestic violence unit, I was in our general criminal division, which handles everything from drug cases to assault cases with strangers or friends, non-domestic, as well as traffic, drugs, all kinds of stuff that you see.
“Since being at the county attorney’s office, I’ve handled thousands of cases, day in and day out, working in the conference rooms with the attorneys and the judges and I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been over there. Before that, when I was in law school at U of L, I was an intern or clerk in our civil division of the county attorney’s office, getting to know a little bit of the civil side.
“A little bit about me personally, I grew up here in Louisville. I’m one of four kids. I’ve got two older sisters and a younger brother. I went to Western Kentucky with the idea that I was going to be in sports for the rest of my life. I worked with the women’s basketball team there. I came home, I was an assistant athletic director or an interim athletic director, as well as coaching basketball here in Jefferson County. I started teaching at St. Raphael. We looked around as far as jobs, it was hard to find a job in sports. Most people are willing to work for free, which makes it hard. But I found a job teaching and I loved it. I was teaching K through eight at St. Raphael. It taught me so much. You deal with people every day just like you would in court that are the most important people in other people’s lives. This community means so much to me. My family’s here, I’m from here and this job means so much to me, and I would ask for your vote.”
Question: What can you or would you do to make sure that indigent people have an attorney and that the public defender’s office is more fully funded?
“I’m going to start with the first part of that. Every day in court, we have cases that come up, and a lot of times arraignment court is done over in the jail. But occasionally, we do arraignment with defendants who have been released prior to arraignment in district court. One of the first things that we talk to them about is if they understand their charges, and if they plan on hiring an attorney. If they need an attorney, we ask them if they plan on hiring their own attorney or asking the court for a public defender.
“I can tell you right now that the public defender’s office is absolutely swamped. I mean, the amount of cases that they have, half of the attorneys that come into my conference room are sweating. Now part of that is the issues with the heat in the Hall of Justice. They go up and down, but they’re running around like crazy and so often we don’t have enough public defenders for the amount of cases and the amount of people in our community that need an attorney.
“Everyone that has a case in court that needs an attorney, I believe, deserves an attorney and deserves a competent attorney. And we’ve got awesome attorneys at the public defender’s office. As far as figuring out better ways to fund them, as a judge I have no idea exactly how I would do that as far as bringing funding to them. But I will say that I think asking more questions about [whether they need a public defender], not just handing them out willy-nilly, which sometimes I believe happens here in district court.”
“I believe that everyone deserves access to the legal system. I practice in district court, family court, circuit court, I’ve been over at federal court, I’ve practiced in front of all 40 of the judges in Jefferson County, as well as the outlying counties.
“Now, when it comes to appointments of a public defender, there is a certain criteria that judges go through where they ask them: ‘Do you own a home? How much equity do you have? Where do you work? How many hours do you work? Do you actually have the ability to be able to afford private counsel?’ Because we all know that the job is hard. And when you do hire private counsel, because I do criminal defense, it becomes expensive. Because that person now has to be able to fund going out and getting a detective, they have to be able to fund going out and getting copies of discovery, things of that nature. And a lot of people do not have that kind of money, but they have the access to those things at the public defender’s office. Because you have to remember — the Louisville police department or whatever county you’re in’s police department, that’s their detective. They are the ones that are out there in criminal cases, especially searching for that.
“Now, obviously, if it’s not a family court case, or any case that is dealing with your constitutional rights, you’re not afforded an attorney. You do have to go out and you have to pay for one. And so the thing is, is to ask the right questions to see if a person can really afford that attorney, not just want to afford an attorney.
“Another thing that can happen is — and I’ve seen this done in Jefferson County, as well as in outlying counties — you can still charge a certain fee to that person. So just because I appoint a public defender to you, doesn’t mean that it’s going to be free. Because, you know, there are cases where we took $10,000 and a bunch of meth and drugs from that person, and now they want to say that they’re indigent. So there’s a way for you to say, ‘Okay, you’re going to pay $500, you’re going to pay $1,000 so that we can recoup some of those funds.’
“I think it’s also important to make sure that attorneys are being held accountable to have the [Interest on Lawyers Trust Account] funds which is the interest that comes off of those funds, is what goes to pay for the public defender’s office and helps with that. And to also have a lot of private attorneys go out the way that I do and actually do pro bono services to help to assist with some of those problems.”
Question: There’s a perception that district court judges work part time. Is this true? If not, what causes this perception? And if yes, what needs to be done to be sure, district court judges are working full time?
“I would say maybe in the past, because I haven’t been around for that long. I don’t know. But I can tell you that of the district court judges that I see, they definitely work full time.
“A misperception is that they have the morning docket in Jefferson County at 9 o’clock. And then they have the 1 p.m. docket. And a lot of times that docket is over by around two, sometimes 1:30, sometimes there’s not a docket. But what a lot of people don’t think about is the fact that as a district court judge, you’re also responsible for setting bail, you’re also responsible for signing search warrants, you’re also responsible to be on call — they have a rotation every 17 days, because there’s 17 judges here. I practiced out in the county, so I’m a little biased, because I know that the case load of Hardin County and Larue County and Scott County, and there are district court judges that actually handle a lot of the district court jurisdictional cases. And those courts sometimes last until four and five o’clock in the afternoon; I’ve actually been on those dockets.
“So obviously, no, that’s not a part-time job. When you’re out with your kids, and you’re cooking dinner, or you’re at Target and you’re trying to shop for school supplies, and you get a phone call from one of the detectives saying, ‘Hey, you’re on call, I really need you to come here. And I need you to sign that.’
“Because I’ve practiced a lot, the district court judges will set bond. So there are times that I go out and I phone call pre-trial at 11 p.m. at night and 2 a.m. to see if a bond has been set on a client, to see if the family can go and can pick them up. So it is not a part-time job. It is actually a job with homework. It is a job where you on call, just like a doctor would be on call. And it’s something that should be taken very, very seriously because you impact everyone’s lives and every decision that you make, is going to have an effect day after day and week and month after month. So, no, it’s definitely not a part-time job.”
“As far as I think the perception that district court can be a part-time job. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that it’s not always in the courthouse that they’re doing work.
“I do think that there are some issues as far as some of the things that have come out more recently, and publications and some of the studies that the Supreme Court has done in Jefferson County that is trying to make Jefferson County District Court more efficient.
“There is nothing worse than having a crowd full of people in the courtroom, and having to tell them that they have to come back at one o’clock. There’s so many people that take off work, that have the morning off, but they need to be at work for the afternoon. It’s a whole combination of things.
“But trying to figure out how to make district court in Jefferson County — with the amount of cases that we have — work more efficient, is I think, what needs to change. There are thousands of cases every day as far as what’s coming through there. And all of those people, you know, as much as maybe something they did put them there, they could be a victim, they could be there because of their kids. There’s a million reasons that will bring you to district court. And I think at some point, whether it’s probate or small claims, everyone will be touched by district court. And I think that it’s not a part-time job. But I do think that there are ways that we can make it more efficient and make it better. And I think that part of the misperception is the fact that not all of the job is done in the courthouse.”
Question: What makes you more qualified than your opponent?
“I believe that what makes me more qualified for this position is I’ve spent every day in the conference rooms, and in the courtrooms of district court. I’ve handled thousands of cases, I’ve sat first chair on a jury trial, I’ve sat second chair on a jury trial. I’ve been in front of the attorneys, I’ve learned from the judges every day, as far as how district court works.
“There’s so much that’s different about Jefferson County District Court that you don’t find anywhere else. You don’t find it in other jobs, you don’t find it other courts and being able to walk in on day one and understand what’s happening in district court, how important it is to the people that are there. While we might have thousands of cases that we go through, that person that’s in front of you for that second, this is the only thing on their mind.
“Some of them are scared, some of them are nervous, and being able to make decisions that not only are following the law and doing your job, but also the best for — not only the person in front of you — but also for the community. We get the opportunity to serve the community, we get the opportunity to be leaders. That’s something that’s important to me; that’s something that I’ve been doing my whole life and I want to continue doing by serving the community of Jefferson County, and I would ask for your vote on November 6th.”
“I opened up my own practice. I am a female trial attorney and litigator. I have cases in district court, I do probate, I do mental health, I’m a guardian ad litem, I’m on the Foster Care Review Board. I do pro bono work. I represent women and veterans for Legal Aid as a free attorney. I also do expungement clinics. I’ve helped out with — they had a new pilot program where you could call and ask questions about custody if you were on the paternity docket, which is what they talked about earlier today. So if you were a male and didn’t have access to a county attorney or assistance, they were offering assistance and oftentimes I would file those motions and I would assist and help them on a pro se level.
“In addition to that, I’ve been in federal court so I have practiced over at the Gene Snyder building. I do practice in circuit court; like right now I am on an assault one which is an attempted murder case. I’ve done drug cases — tomorrow, I get to go and do a proffer at the Commonwealth Attorney’s office to help someone who, this is her first time having a criminal case — and it is a very high-profile case with a lot of defendants — so that she can be able to get a settlement with regard to a diversion program so she can go back out and have a second chance at life.
“In addition to that, I’m out in the community. I do things all the time. I see people, I meet people, I’m out with people. I’m a mom, I am a person. I’m a human being. I take that role very seriously. I’ve worked so hard to get to where I am today. I don’t take this lightly. I am not privileged. I have worked. I have studied, I have sacrificed. I want this job. I deserve this job. And I want nothing more than to serve the people, and so that when they come before me in the courtroom, they know that someone is sitting there with compassion and kindness and that can have a stern hand at the same time. And on November the sixth, I asked you to flip your ballot over and in the Division Three race in Jefferson County District Court vote for Tracy Davis.”
For information about other 2018 judicial races in Jefferson County, click here.