Kentucky is one of only ten states that elects judges at every level of its court system through nonpartisan elections. Judges in the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Circuit Courts and Family Courts are elected to eight-year terms, while District judges are elected to four-year terms.
Nine of Jefferson County’s 43 judicial elections have three or more candidates this year, subjecting them to primary elections on May 17 to determine who will advance to the general election on November 8.
Kentucky’s District Courts are trial courts of limited jurisdiction, covering misdemeanor criminal cases and small claims civil litigation. The District 30, Division 15 seat has been held by Judge Anne Haynie since 2005. Haynie is not running for reelection, and three candidates are running to replace her.
- Mary Jude Wolford, 58, is a former Assistant Jefferson County Attorney.
- Claudette Patton, 61, is a private litigation attorney and former Kentucky Assistant Attorney General.
- Samuel Hayward Jr. is a Labor rights attorney at Adams, Hayward and Welsh. Hayward has not yet responded to our voter guide survey.
WFPL News sent a three-question survey to every candidate for judicial office in the nine races with primary elections impacting Jefferson County. Some candidates did not respond in time to be included; responses have been edited for clarity and length.
What makes you the most qualified candidate for this judgeship?
Wolford: The fact that I worked daily in District Court for seven years and have handled thousands of District Court cases from initial appearance to trial or other resolution in the felony/misdemeanor, guardianship, and Family Court divisions is just one of several reasons why I am the most qualified candidate. I am knowledgeable about court resources and alternative resolutions that are often needed to deal with the many District Court defendants, victims, and witnesses who are deeply affected by addiction, poverty, mental illness, homelessness, and language or cultural barriers. In my 30 years as an attorney, I have also done civil defense work, served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, and was Director of Academic Success at Brandeis Law School. I have earned the endorsements of Citizens for Better Judges, C-FAIR, and numerous labor unions. I believe that the relevant, meaningful District Court experience that I possess makes me the most qualified candidate for the District Court bench.
Patton: After 30 years of successful criminal and civil litigation experience, my qualifications have prepared me to serve as your next District Court Judge. I built my legal career on providing solid advice, strong advocacy and client satisfaction while practicing at the highest levels of professionalism and ethics. I’ve been endorsed by groups and leaders in the legal community, including FOP Deputy Sheriff’s Lodge 25, the very heroes who provide daily protection in our courtrooms. As a former KY Assistant Attorney General, I prosecuted cases in Elder Abuse / Medicaid Fraud Unit, ensuring the safety of our valuable and vulnerable seniors. Serving you in District Court will provide me the opportunity use my expertise and network of county and state resources to improve community safety, reverse our juvenile system’s school-to-prison pipeline, offer compassion and education to victims, provide opportunity for recovery and restitution, and support our veterans with specialty services.
What is your judicial philosophy, and how will it affect your actions on the bench?
Wolford: My judicial philosophy is the same as my personal philosophy:
- To treat every person as an individual worthy of dignity and respect;
- To be more tolerant of others who hold views different than our own, and be able to discuss and disagree in a civilized and rational manner;
- To work daily to recognize and reduce racism and personal bias.
These tenets will set the tone in my courtroom, and affect every judicial decision I make. I believe the importance of treating individuals respectfully cannot be overstated. In a day to day District Court setting, this would mean requiring that attorneys, defendants, and plaintiffs/respondents, as well as myself, show up for court prepared and on time in order to move cases forward expeditiously. Moreover, holding all courtroom participants to these same high standards will create an atmosphere of increased professionalism that will benefit District Court as a whole.
Patton: I understand judicial philosophy to be a high standard of excellence both inside and outside the courtroom that supports Truth, Justice, Fairness, and Ethics. Frank E. Haddad, Jr., one of Jefferson County’s greatest attorneys, and Judge Charles M. Allen, taught me early in my career to focus on these four legal pillars and success would follow. I observed and learned from them daily not to be influenced by political pressure, intimidation, racism or bias. As your next District Court Judge, these pillars will be upheld in my courtroom ensuring professionalism, courtesy, respect, dignity, impartiality and everyday manners will be followed. Starting day one from the bench, my judicial philosophy will serve the citizens of our community extremely well, while bringing honor to two of my legal mentors.
In light of recent reports regarding deaths and unsafe conditions at the Louisville Metro Detention Center, what is the role of the judiciary in maintaining a safe and responsible jail?
Wolford: The judiciary needs to ensure that defendants are held in jail only when absolutely necessary. Judges must balance the overall safety of the community and the requirement that a defendant return for the next court date/not pick up new charges when deciding whether a defendant should be held in jail. A judge must also continually educate herself on the latest data regarding which circumstances affect a defendant’s likelihood to return to court, reoffend, etc. My extensive experience with District Court criminal cases will give me a much better basis for determining which defendants should be detained and which should be released on their own recognizance.
Patton: Maintaining a safe and responsible jail system is important to me as your next District Court Judge. Open communication standards should be promoted between the jail and the courtroom concerning the jailed individual’s health, safety and wellbeing; however, the judiciary does not play a frontline role in jail maintenance. The overarching question for the Commonwealth on safety pertains to three areas: community at large, the victim and the accused. Jail may be unsafe for many individuals such as risk of infectious disease, physical harm, losing employment, losing children, limited mental health services and more. Judges should have the discretion to examine the facts and circumstances of each individual case when determining bail, pretrial incarceration, or alternative methods to ensure the accused returns to court. Justice begins with pretrial justice.
This article has been updated to include a response from Claudette Patton.