In Kentucky, non-partisan 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 6th Division, District Court Judge Sean Delahanty is seeking reelection; he has been on the bench for 20 years. In his years on the court, he’s had several high-profile tussles with both current Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell and his predecessor Irv Maze. Earlier this year he made headlines when he kicked a defense attorney out of his courtroom.
Challenging Delahanty is Lisa Langford, who has worked in the Jefferson County Attorney’s office since 2004, and served as Assistant Jefferson County Attorney since 2005.
At a judicial forum held last month by the League of Women Voters, Delahanty spoke for about five minutes about his qualifications to continue holding the position. Langford was unable to attend the forum due to a family illness; WFPL reached out to her and gave her the same opportunity: five minutes to speak about her experience. Listen or read their answers below, which have been edited for clarity.
Judge Sean Delahanty:
“I’m Judge Sean Delahanty. I have served honorably for the past 20 years as a Jefferson District Court judge. I like the job, I think I’m good at it. But of course, I think I’m good at it; but there are some objective measures that might help voters appreciate the fact that lawyers appreciate the job that I’ve done for the 20 years.
If you are a sitting judge, every two years you are evaluated by the lawyers in the community, and I’ve done well. I have been sort of the highest-rated judge for ‘overall satisfaction.’ So I have been the highest-rated, and I’ve had some not-so-great years. I’m sort of a B student, most of the time. I got a couple of Cs, and I had at least one A.
The second thing that the Louisville Bar Association does is that for all of these races, they have what’s called a ‘judicial candidate evaluation,’ where they ask the lawyers, again, who have some knowledge of the candidates, questions about various things. And the bottom line is, ‘is this candidate highly qualified, qualified, unqualified, or highly unqualified, or I don’t know the candidate?’ Well, in most of these evaluations that I’ve had, I get a higher number of people who say that they know me, and have had experience with me as a judge. And this past judicial candidate evaluation, 45% of the lawyers, I think was 45, it could be 44 or 46, said that I was highly qualified. Now, lawyers are a rough crowd. And that’s a very good number and I’m very proud of that number. So there are some objective measures for this.
Now, I do enjoy the job. And I have a belief that every day I have a chance to change somebody’s life for the better. But it’s important that you be able to communicate with every person that comes before us. And we are the high volume court — we handle the lesser crimes, but it’s the high, high volume and plus we have the other jurisdictions that Dee Pregliasco [the forum’s moderator and a former judge] mentioned. And I have served in every jurisdiction in District Court.
Theoretically, if you are a judge in District Court, you are going to rotate through all of the jurisdictions. So you’re going to be required to sit in probate court, you’re going to be required to sit in in mental inquest court, you’re going to be required to sit in a criminal docket, you’re going to be required to sit in juvenile court.
Now, at the present time, there are 17 District Court judges: there are four males, and two of the males, myself and Judge Hollenbach have opponents. So we males — and it’s hard for white males to stand up and say ‘you know we need some diversity on this court.’ And women have done a terrific job electing women to the district court bench. And we have some excellent female judges, I’m not disparaging the female judges. But at the present time there are only two judges who have rotated through every division of District Court. So of the 17, there’s only two — myself and Ann Haynie.”
“Hi, my name is Lisa L. Langford and I’m running for Jefferson District Court, specifically in Division Six. That is simply a port number; it doesn’t have any impact on the ballot. That is all of Jefferson County, and I am asking for your vote on November the sixth.
I’ve been asked to explain why I am qualified to be a judge. And I’ll start briefly with my background. I am a Louisville native, was born here in Louisville and have lived here all my life other than three years in Indianapolis. My father is a retired federal government employee and my mother is retired from JCPS as both a schoolteacher and counselor. Both of them worked over 30 years in their respective careers. And I attended Kentucky State University and Brandeis School of Law, which is where I got my juris doctorate and have been working since then at the county attorney’s office as a prosecutor.
The reason why I believe that I am qualified for judge is my 14 years inside of District Court on a daily basis. During that time, I have handled thousands of cases, I’ve had numerous trials, hearings, and of course, arguments, motions, etc. in front of the bench. My opponent does have 20 years of experience as a judge. However, I think I have the advantage because in my 14 years, I have been able to work in all 17 courtrooms and I have been practicing in front of at least 20 different judges. So having practiced in front of them, of course, I have been able to observe their judicial styles, mannerisms, tactics, etc. And I believe that I have gained the best of the best.
We all know that everyone’s different. There are some judges that were very knowledgeable, thoughtful, compassionate, and then we have others that were more or less knowledgeable, maybe a little testy or temperamental. I believe that what I will bring to the bench will be the best of the practices that I have performed while I’ve been there.
You know, I have a great reputation of working well with officers, clerks, personnel, the defendants that come in my courtroom, victims that I’ve helped along the way. I know that I have treated each of them with nothing but respect and dignity and I will continue that on the bench. I also have found several judges that I truly admire, that I will adopt some of the mannerisms and the way that they treat people and run their courtroom as well.
In addition, I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in a lot of programs and services and the starting of services that have been offered to defendants in order to help them not come back to be repeat offenders. We’ve got programs that involve helping folks who are on drugs. We also just recently started a new initiative called the LEAD project — which has gotten a lot of press here locally — I am on the leadership team of that. And that is where we’re dealing with the opioid crisis, as we all know, that is leading to the jails being overcrowded, it’s leading to a lot of lower-level thefts, crimes in the area. It affects all of us.
What the LEAD program does is actually allow officers who are in the test area — which right now is in the Russell and Portland area — to approach someone who is either using drugs or has a lower-level drug crime, that ordinarily they would go directly to jail. Instead, they’re being routed to the Volunteers of America program. If they agree to do so, they go through an intake process, and if they qualify, they will, instead of going to jail and being cited, they go through the program, they agree to complete the program. And at that point upon completion, it’s just done almost like a diversion.
Obviously, those who choose not to, or have other issues that they come up with bench warrants or they have more serious offenses where they don’t qualify, then they do go to jail. But we do believe that ultimately, this program will help people, help our community and of course, lessen the load on our jail, which right now, I think is the biggest drug facility as far as treatment and housing people in Kentucky. So we certainly want that to change.
There are some other initiatives that are going on in court right now, including Veterans’ Court. We have now both a felony court of drug court, as well as a family drug court and a misdemeanor drug court. So all of those are set up to help folks who really want help. And as part of their core process there, they deal with the core issues they have as well with drugs. We have the Casey’s laws initiatives http://www.caseyslaw.org/ that are helping families who are willing to stick through and help their child or children go through the drug court process or to get help to get them off of drugs. And that has also been very successful.
I believe that all of the things that I have mentioned make me the best-qualified candidate to be your next Jefferson County Judge in Division Six.”
For information about other 2018 judicial races in Jefferson County, click here.