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 7 seat has been held by Judge Jennifer Bryant Wilcox since 2009. Wilcox is running for the 30th Circuit’s Division 8 seat, and three candidates are running to fill her District Court seat.
- Megan McDonald, 37, is a partner at Nelson, McDonald and Shrewsbury covering general law, previously a civil mediator at M & M Mediations.
- Shannon R. Fauver, 51, is a private attorney focusing primarily on bankruptcy and Social Security disability litigation.
- Jacob Elder, 38, is a defense attorney at Shure and Associates, former prosecutor in County Attorney’s office.
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?
McDonald: As an attorney, I handle primarily District Court cases, such as probate issues and expungements. As a mediator I’ve participated in over 500 complex civil mediations including personal injury, medical malpractice, contract disputes and property issues. I have worked in many different divisions of the courthouse and served as a bench clerk and deputy clerk for the Domestic Violence Intake Center the year before law school. I knew I wanted to run for judge when I applied to law school, and I’ve worked hard to gain as much experience as possible since I decided to pursue the bench. However, a strong resume with varied work experience is not enough. Good judges must also possess strength of character, they must have integrity and a true passion for justice. In addition, judges must also exercise compassion and empathy — a true feel for people. I am fortunate to have grown up in a household where these qualities were exemplified on a daily basis and I will bring them with me to the bench.
Fauver: I believe that the best candidate for Judge should know the law and have practiced the law and have the experience to make decisions based on the law. I have been a lawyer for 18 years and have represented over 3,000 clients from Traffic Court to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Along with my legal experience, and my service with the Peace Corps, I am able to understand people from all walks of life and will treat them with the dignity and respect that everyone is entitled to no matter their social status, race or religion.
District Court covers matters from small claims, traffic court to evictions. At some point most people’s first time in Court will be District Court, they need to have a judge that will understand that this will be a new experience to them and don’t want to be treated with anything other than respect. A person also needs to know that a judge will listen to them and they will not be treated dismissively just because they are in the Court system.
Elder: I have the experience requisite for compassion. I’ve worked daily in Jefferson District Court as a prosecutor and criminal defense attorney. I have stood shoulder to shoulder to my fellow human being and argued for the court to take them into custody, and I have begged the court for their release. I have been to the jail to meet clients, and have witnessed first hand the conditions there. I know what it means to be taken into custody. I have advocated for victims and the accused. I understand the stresses placed on the victims, defendants, and their families. I have worked with judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors, clerks, and law enforcement. I understand the trauma and stresses placed on anyone who has ever set foot in Jefferson County District Court, even the stresses of a couple just trying to figure where to go to get married. These experiences have given me the professionalism and compassion to be the District Court Judge Jefferson county needs.
What is your judicial philosophy, and how will it affect your actions on the bench?
McDonald: I believe it is paramount for judges to have respect for the individuals within the community they serve. This of course means respect for the law and serving justice to protect the community at large. However, this also means respect for individuals appearing before them in the courtroom. Not only the attorneys and staff, but the accused as well. One of the most important qualities a judge can have is knowing when to stop talking and actively listen. No one can truly know the challenges people are facing outside of the courtroom and I believe judges must be sensitive to this. Many important decisions a judge makes are guided not only by law, but also by discretion. By taking the time to listen to the members of the community appearing in the courtroom, a judge can make the best decisions that protect the greater public while also respecting individual rights and freedoms.
Fauver: My passion for Justice led me to law school and now to the Bench. For example, when I am Judge, we will have a Homeless Court, to work alongside Drug Court and Veteran Court, as many people who come into District Court don’t need jail, they need assistance.
I believe that everyone should be treated equally and fairly and that their rights are to be respected under the law.
Elder: A judge’s role is to ensure due process. Whether it’s criminal or civil, the party moving the court must have a sufficient legal basis for the action and follow the rules of procedure. Too often, criminal charges are allowed to proceed simply because law enforcement issued a citation. There is little review of the allegations beyond the citation, and often no evidence tendered to the accused. My actions on the bench will hold the moving party accountable to the rules, especially the Commonwealth in bringing criminal charges.
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?
McDonald: The judiciary has great control over incarceration rates through sentencing and bail. District court judges preside over arraignment and decide whether an individual will be held (incarcerated) or released. The largest causes of the problems faced at the Detention Center are overcrowding and under-staffing. While judges cannot address staffing issues, they play an integral part in who is incarcerated. It is my strong belief that the only people who need to be incarcerated are violent offenders, those who pose a threat to the community. There are many options available to judges to ensure offenders return to court that do not require the individual to be jailed. I believe that judges need to be keenly aware that home incarceration is a viable option for non-violent offenders. Cash bail, surety bonds and no bond release are options for those accused of a non-violent offense and all have substantially similar return to court rates.
Fauver: Per the law in Kentucky, a bail amount has to be set for every case, other than a capital murder case. That amount can be set from zero to whatever the judge feels is necessary for each case. Realistically the cash bail system disproportionately impacts the poor and has to be addressed. The way the system works currently, someone only needs to be in jail for three days, after being charged, and before having a court hearing, for them to lose their job, their child, their housing. The entire bail system needs to be configured so that people’s lives are no longer being turned upside down for a charge, again before they have any type of hearing with the judge. Our system says everyone is innocent before proven guilty and that is why the cash bail system isn’t effective. When a Judge sets a bail amount, one of things to be considered currently is the fact that one can be charged (before a trial) and may not survive the time in jail, so alternatives have to be looked at in many cases.
Elder: The judiciary does not have a role in maintaining a safe and responsible jail. That role is separate from the authority and power of the judiciary. However, when the Commonwealth moves the court to detain or hold someone in custody, the judge has a responsibility to uphold the rights of the accused or convicted and ensure that detention is in keeping with the principles of justice. In light of the conditions of our Jail on Liberty Street, and my first hand knowledge of such conditions, I would use my discretion for alternative methods of incarceration and monitoring when appropriate. Only people who pose the greatest threat of violence towards the community need to be detained.