In Kentucky, matters involving children, divorce, adoption or domestic violence (among others) go to their own special court: Family Court, which is a division of Circuit Court. These judges will hear all matters involving a particular family, which, according to the state court website, “reduces the stress that can arise when individuals are shuttled between courts to resolve a variety of issues.”
Family court judges, like all circuit court judges, serve eight-year terms and are selected in nonpartisan elections. They must be U.S. citizens and have lived in the district for two years. They also have to be licensed to practice law in Kentucky, and have been a licensed attorney for at least 8 years.
There are two family court positions on this year’s Jefferson County ballot: the 4th Division and the 10th Division. These positions are county-wide, so every voter in Jefferson county will have the opportunity to cast a vote in both races.
In the 4th Division, Judge Lauren Adams Ogden is running for re-election. Ogden has been in the seat since January, when Gov. Matt Bevin appointed her to fill the vacancy left by Judge Dolly Berry’s retirement.
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.
Judge Lauren Adams Ogden:
“My name is Judge Lauren Adams Ogden, and I am your newest Family Court Judge here in Jefferson County. I sit in Division Four, where Judge Dolly Berry sat and who recently retired. I am loving the job, it’s my dream job. I’ve met many of you all before. I’ve run before in 2014 and 2016. I’m an experienced candidate, and I’m really enjoying my experience as a family court judge.
“Prior to taking the bench. I was a private attorney for more than 16 years. And I practiced in family court 95 percent of the time. I like to say I would help people during their most difficult times, death and divorce, because I spent a little time in probate court as well. And I also was a licensed family mediator. And so that was a valuable experience for me, to help parties avoid court and to take control over their own cases. Particularly when you’re dealing with families, families should have that opportunity to take control of their lives and make decisions that are tailored for their individual family. So it was a pleasure to serve in that capacity.
“And really the vast majority of cases that come in front of me are parties representing themselves. So that mediator experience really helps as I’m trying to build some consensus and work out what’s best for that particular family.
“I’ll tell you a little bit about myself, personally. I’m a wife and a mother and a community leader and volunteer. I was a leader in every bar association of which I was a member — from the Women Lawyers Association here where I’m a past president, to serving on the board of the Louisville Bar Association, as well as chairing statewide the Family Law Section for the Kentucky bar. I’m incredibly supported by my peers, by the vast majority of the family court bar. Please keep Judge Ogden, I’m working hard for you. I’ll be first on the ballot when you flip that ballot over in my race and I appreciate your time.”
“My name is Lori Goodwin, I am an attorney here in Jefferson County running for family court judge in division number four. I currently am an attorney at the Legal Aid Society. I’ve been practicing at Legal Aid for the last 10-and-a-half years. A hundred percent of my legal practice has been within the family court system. So I am very, very familiar with family court in all 10 divisions here in Jefferson County.
“At Legal Aid, I have served as the program coordinator of the domestic violence advocacy program — where we have attorneys from the private bar come in and we teach them how to represent survivors of domestic violence and how to represent those clients in domestic violence cases. I also serve on the vitality review committee here in Jefferson County, which is the committee that reviews all the domestic-related homicides in Jefferson County. I volunteer with ECHO, Exploited Children Health Organization, and we will be reopening the playroom at the courthouse come October the 11th, so I’ve been working with them. I’ve also served on the Safe Havens Committee, which is the committee that discusses safe exchanges for children, for parents in contentious relationships. As you can guess, in Family Court we have a lot of contentious cases, families that are going through divorces, domestic violence issues, then dependency, neglect and abuse cases.
“Personally, I’m a graduate from the University of Louisville. I am a graduate from Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Before I started practicing, I was a teacher at Nativity Academy at St. Boniface where I taught the students how to do debate. Debate is a large part of my life: I was a debater at the University of Louisville and my debate experience as well as my experience as an attorney for the last 10-and-a-half years makes me the most qualified and competent candidate to serve as your next Family Court Judge here in Jefferson County.”
Question: What role can family court play in the opioid crisis?
“There is a new family drug court that it’s going to be coming out. You really have to, one have real life experiences. That’s why it’s so important that you know who you’re voting for, and know the background of that particular candidate.
“Personally, I do have experience — as maybe many of you in the room might have had experience with family members that have had some type of substance abuse issues. So you have to realize these are real people, these are real problems. And when they come into the courtroom, because they may have opioid addiction or any other type of substance abuse issue, that does not make that particular person a bad person. They’ve made bad choices for their family and themselves. And so I think it’s really important that you take the person as they are, you look at their particular circumstances, and then you tailor the decision you make for that particular family to the specific circumstances that are surrounding their particular addiction.
“That’s why I think it’s so important as family court judges, or just judges in general, that you look at more [than] just the surface level of that individual. And you really take into account why they have made the decisions that they have made, and what can we do to help them get back on the right path. And hopefully, in this instance, in family court, reunify them with their families and their children. But my most important thing is to make sure that the children in the family are kept safe and secure at all times.”
“One of my favorite topics is the coming of our new family drug treatment court. We did have drug court back years ago under Judge Garber, who’s now retired, and we’re glad — Judge Brown actually, who’s here in the in the house tonight — she and I went to Houston on a training. We were sent by the Jewish women’s group that raised money to bring family drug treatment court back.
“So that is going to be relevant on our dependency, neglect and abuse docket. So that’s where there’s families struggling with addiction, substance abuse, and otherwise, and they are in danger of losing their kids. It’s not anyone’s best interest to separate families, as long as there is safety.
“The drug treatment court has fantastic numbers when it comes to success rates. It costs our system less money to meet the needs of this family individually. We have a START [Sobriety, Treatment and Recovery Team] team through the Cabinet for Health and Family Services that helps families with drug addiction, where they have kids under age five; this will help our families with older kids. So we’re so thrilled to have this new birth of a court later this month. And I’ve learned so much.
“The neat thing about it is that the drug treatment court is going to be very collaborative. The social workers are going to work with the parents, attorneys, and we’re going to work with the judges, and we’re going to work with the prosecutors and the guardians ad litem, and everyone has the same goal to have that family reunified — which is always the goal of family court: to use instead of consequences and negativity, to use responses and positive reinforcement.”
Question: What is House Bill number one, and it’s processes for foster care and adoption reforms and how will it work in family court?
“House Bill 1 is a sweeping new legislation that was just passed and became effective in July from the new legislative body and the new governor. The goal of the legislation is to streamline the foster care system so that kids aren’t tied up in foster care too very much longer. The goal is to find permanency sooner rather than later.
“We’re having a lot of continuing education right now about the way that this will impact our families. But again, this is going to be highly relevant on our abuse, dependency and neglect dockets.
“One thing that should be pointed out is that where a newborn infant is born with substances that are illegal in its system, having been exposed to narcotics while in utero, there’s going to be a very swift removal and the goal is to have that mother get into substance abuse treatment within 60 days. And if that doesn’t happen, there’s going to be a shift to the goal being adoption for that child.
“So here we have the most ‘tender years doctrine’ and the very most vulnerable having been exposed and going through detox, to have an infant going through that. So that’s going to be one of the major shifts, it’s just finding permanency for a child much, much faster so that we can have these kids move forward toward their future in the best possible situation and the most safe and healthy situation.”
“Well, I’m going to just piggyback off a little bit, what Judge Ogden said about the bill is to try to streamline as she mentioned the permanency and placing children in safe and secure homes when they’re removed, for instance, on the dependency neglect and abuse docket.
“In theory, I think that’s an excellent idea. I think every child in Jefferson County that has been removed from their parents’ home is entitled to have a permanent home that is going to be safe for them. Those parents are going to make decisions in the best interest of the child.
“However, that also goes back to the last question we were talking about with the drug court and with parents that do have substance abuse issues. So if a mother as she said, does not submit to those court-ordered drug classes, or rehab or things like that — while that is the law, I would be a little hesitant to just sweep that child automatically away from that parent. Because parents do sometimes make bad decisions, and they are not always as quick to get it together as we would hope.
“As a judge, of course, I will follow what the law says because that will be my job. But again, in practice, I’m a little hesitant to say that because this parent has made a bad decision that they should automatically have their child taken away and adopted into another family.
“However, if that parent does not want to cooperate and does not want to follow what the court orders are, then I think this bill is particularly helpful for those children because they will have a permanent home of caring and loving parents that are going to make decisions that are in their best interest.”
Question: Should the current closed dockets in family court — such as paternity and custody cases — be open to the public? Why or why not?
“I have mixed feelings on that issue. On one hand, I think that it’s important for the public to feel that they can come into court. I know a lot of times before, when they had the pilot program where those dockets were open, that the public was able to come in and view those dockets — for instance, the paternity docket — and I think that the public felt that would hold judges accountable.
“However, these again, are real people with very sensitive and private issues that I feel should not be exposed to the general public. And if you have a judge in office that you voted for, and confidence that [he or she] knows the law, who is competent, who is going to have the right demeanor, and who is going to make decisions that are based in the law than those dockets do not need to be open in order for that judge to be held accountable.
“You’ve already voted that person into office, you already know that they’re qualified to hold the position and you already know that they are going to hopefully make the right decisions for that particular family on that docket.
“So again, it’s a mixed feeling for me, on one hand, is public court, I do feel like the public should be entitled to come and view some family court dockets. But on the other hand, you have to put yourself in that particular litigant’s shoes — would you want your private family business open for the entire public to come view within the court system? So it’s a double-edged sword. I know that’s not a definitive answer, and attorneys usually do not give definitive answers. So just look at both sides of that coin.”
“So yes, there’s always a goal towards openness in our courts. I always say it’s not my courtroom; it’s the people’s courtroom. And I have an open door policy to have people come by and see what we do there. The vast majority of what we do in family court is public and open.
“But most people don’t just kind of wander in, there’s not the same heightened interest as with a big murder trial. The few things that are private and confidential are the dependency, neglect and abuse cases as well as the paternity cases. And back in the day, it was quite a stigma to have children out of wedlock, and so that’s what we do in paternity: it’s where parties share a child together, and we deal with all of the child support and parenting stuff there.
“I sort of feel like there’s not a stigma anymore around having children and not being married, and so I don’t feel that it should be closed. As for the dependency, neglect and abuse we did according to a pilot project, Jefferson County was the first county to have those courts be open. And I will tell you, I was getting the word out at every event like this, every meeting I went to —‘Come down and see what we do in family court. It’s open for the first time ever!’ Nobody came! All right. We had a reporter here or there.
“But I do feel like those dockets are more sensitive. You’re dealing with kids that are abused, and there’s sex abuse, and there’s parents struggling with all of their addictions, and criminal histories and backgrounds, and there’s just so many challenges and interwoven aspects to deal with there. So, I’m just very torn about that, but I feel like openness is where we’re headed.”
Question: What makes you more qualified than your opponent in this particular race?
“I am the most qualified candidate to become your next Jefferson County Family Court Judge in Division 4 for several different reasons. Number one, as I already mentioned, 100 percent of my legal practice has been within the family court system. Family law is what I know. That is all I have done. I have committed my entire career to serving the residents of Jefferson County within family court.
“Number two, as an attorney at Legal Aid, I already have the experience of dealing with a heavy caseload. So it’s a little different from the public defender’s office; our caseload is not as large but in any particular time I could have anywhere from 40 to 60-plus clients at one time. I serve as the attorney, I serve as my own secretary, I serve as my own paralegal. So I am already accustomed to handling high-stress situations and doing all of that work myself in an effective way, and as expeditiously as possible.
“The other reason I am the most qualified is because I am the most well-versed in the law. As far as family law is concerned, I am the most familiar with all of the civil rules of procedure. Again, this is civil court, not criminal court. I have the correct demeanor to be your next family court judge. A lot of people think family court is touchy-feely, it’s all about feelings. But these are very sensitive and serious topics that we’re dealing with in family court. There’s a thin line between being compassionate and at the same time putting your foot down and making sure that the litigants in your courtroom are going to take the court order seriously. And lastly, I am the most qualified because I am the most competent candidate in this race. And I hope that I get your vote on November the sixth.”
“We have a huge volume of cases in family court. I heard a statistic a few years ago that half of all cases filed in the entire Commonwealth of Kentucky are family court cases in Jefferson County. I’ll repeat that. Fifty percent of all cases that are filed in the state that we live in are in family court. Fifty percent in our county. We do have a high volume. I get 1,900 new cases a year, plus the ones that keep coming back — you know who you are.
“The philosophy is one family, one judge, one court. I’ve been there doing the job for nine months. I am a workaholic for Jefferson County families. I am one of the first ones there every day. I’m one of the last ones to leave. I don’t leave until every order is assigned. It’s pretty much unheard of.
“I’ve been so involved in the community from mentoring pregnant and parenting teens at Home of the Innocents to volunteering. I’ve served a ton of meals at Gilda’s Club as well as being really involved with Heuser Hearing Learning Academy. I’ve already shown that I’m a leader from the bench. I represent all the other family court judges in Jefferson County on a pro bono consortium. That’s a committee devoted to providing legal services free of charge to those in need in our community.
“I did very complex divorce litigation while I was in private practice. I’m a graduate of Vanderbilt law school and I’m a mom — you know what, that’s a qualification, okay, and one that differentiates me from my opponent. So please remember to keep Judge Ogden, I’m first on the ballot.”
For information about other 2018 judicial races in Jefferson County, click here.