Kentucky is one of ten states to elect judges to all levels of its court system through nonpartisan elections. Justices of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Circuit Courts, and Family Courts are elected for eight-year terms, while district judges are elected for four-year terms.
Nine of Jefferson County’s 43 judicial elections have three or more nominees this year, putting them in a May 17 primary to determine who will qualify for the Nov. 8 general election.
Kentucky Court of Appeals judges hear appeals from circuit and district courts throughout the state. The District 4, Division 2 seat has been held by Judge Denise G. Clayton, who also serves as the court’s chief justice, since 2007. Clayton is not running for re-election, and three candidates are running to replace her.
- McKenzie Cantrell34, has been a Democratic state representative for District 38, covering southwest Louisville and Jefferson County, since 2016. Cantrell is an employment lawyer at the nonprofit Kentucky Equal Justice Center.
- Annette Karem, 56, is a regular judge for District 30-1 and chief judge of the Jefferson County District Court. She was first elected in 2006.
- Stan Whetzel72 years old, is a private lawyer working in civil law and right of appeal.
WFPL News sent a three-question survey to every candidate for judicial office in the nine races with primary elections impacting Jefferson County. Some applicants 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?
Cantrell: First, I practiced law. Most of my practice has been devoted to labor law, representing employees in wages and hours, breach of contract, human resources
trafficking and other conflicts. My clients
are mostly low-income and Spanish-speaking, among the most vulnerable in our workforce. Second, I made the law. For the past six years I have been a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives. Participating in the development and passage of legislation, particularly as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, has given me the opportunity to work with all kinds of legislation and shape the policy of our Commonwealth and our justice system. Third, I taught law as an assistant professor at the University of Louisville School of Law. I taught legislation and statutory interpretation, and statutory interpretation is exactly the job of an appellate judge. I have seen the legislative process from a practical and academic point of view, and now I am ready to apply this experience as a judge.
Karem: I’m the only candidate in my race with legal experience. One of the main functions of a judge of the Court of Appeal is to evaluate and, if necessary, correct the decisions rendered by other judges. I made those decisions. I recognize and understand that these are decisions that impact the lives of people before me. In addition to my bench experience, I participate in various related community organizations that involve the justice system. I have extensive experience and training in domestic violence cases and serve on the domestic violence death review committee. As Chief Justice of the District Court, I serve on numerous committees with our justice partners, including having recently been appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to the Task Force on Improving notification of the courts. My level of experience is unmatched in my career and makes me the best candidate for the position at the Court of Appeal.
Whetzel: I am the most qualified candidate for this seat as I have practiced appellate and civil litigation for over thirty years and represented individuals, deceased estates, small and large businesses, Fortune 500 companies , the Federal Farm Credit Banks for the States of Kentucky. , Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee, including many of their subsidiary associations, local governments and the Commonwealth of Kentucky, in the state and federal courts of Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee . I am rated “AV” by Martindale-Hubbell: “A” for legal capacity (“preeminent”) and “V” for ethics (“very high”). I am admitted to the Kentucky Bar, the Bar of the United States Supreme Court, and the Federal District Courts of Kentucky and the Southern District of Indiana. I excelled for years (others tell me) in legal research and writing, which is the basic job of a lawyer and an appellate judge. I enjoy challenging legal work and have succeeded. I am a naturally curious person. I am conscientious and I assume my responsibilities. Although I am tenacious, I always consider other points of view.
What is your judicial philosophy and how will it affect your actions on the bench?
Cantrell: The most important thing underlying my perspective as a potential judge is my respect for our system of government. We have three branches of government, and I once served in one of them. I know the difference between writing the law and interpreting it, and I know when to say what the law is or tell someone they’re in the wrong forum if a legislative change is really needed. Part of being a judge that’s similar to my current experience as a legislator is that I’m used to being responsible for the statewide implications of the work we do. I am already someone people trust to be their elected voice in government, and I will continue to be fair, hardworking, and respectful to all.
Karem: My judicial philosophy is to listen, understand and decide. The primary responsibility of the justice system is to provide parties with an opportunity to be heard and to have their cases decided on their particular facts. In all cases, judges must give both parties the opportunity to explain their point of view, the particular facts of their case and how they believe the law applies. The judge must ensure that everyone understands the process and the law in their case. Finally, judges must make their decisions thoughtfully. Our community is best served if judges apply these three principles.
Whetzel: I believe that an independent judiciary is the essential safeguard to preserve and maintain a healthy democracy. As a private lawyer who is not beholden to the state, it is my role and my extraordinary privilege to be a bridge between people and the enormous might and power of big business and government. The purpose of the Kentucky Court of Appeals, an intermediate appellate court, is to correct prejudicial error, not to set judicial policy. This is the prerogative of the Kentucky Supreme Court. For most of us, the Court of Appeal will be our court of last resort, our last chance to obtain justice or redress. Therefore, I consider the Court of Appeals to be the most important court in Kentucky. As a judge, my role is not to be the defender of a particular person or cause, which is the role of a lawyer, but to apply the facts of the case to the relevant law. to the case, to correct errors and to render a correct judgment. In my opinion, a partisan or biased judge cannot be faithful to his duties. We all have our personal opinions, but a judge must subordinate them to his responsibilities. As a Judge of the Kentucky Court of Appeals, I will do my best for my job and respect those who appear before me, regardless of name, age, race, gender, orientation, and social status. .
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 prison?
Cantrell: Judges need to be sure that when a person is sentenced to serve time in a correctional facility, it is not a death sentence. In order for our community to have confidence in our justice system, it must be expected that people who have committed crimes will be able to serve their sentences and eventually reintegrate into society without the unimaginable tragedies that have occurred recently. On the other hand, I also have immense sympathy for our local correctional staff, who have persevered despite COVID worker shortages, overcrowding in the prison and the constant threat of overdose in what has become the largest center of State makeshift drug rehab. I don’t have all the answers, but one thing I’ve demonstrated in my career that could lead to better results in prison is fighting for better pay, benefits, pensions, hours and training for staff. correctional.
Karem: It is important for a judge to use all the tools available to ensure that only the most dangerous inmates and those who refuse to return to court are incarcerated. Due to covid and staffing issues, the city closed the Louisville Correctional Facility that was used to house inmates, but also allowed them to participate in counseling outside of custody and continue working. This facility was an important option for inmates who could not participate in home confinement due to housing issues. I will continue to advocate for the reopening of this facility to give judges more options when considering a defendant’s bail.
Whetzel: People accused of crimes and incarcerated in our prisons have the right to the presumption of innocence and the protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights in our federal and state constitutions. As such, they are entitled to reasonably safe and habitable accommodation in prisons, and to the active supervision and monitoring of the correctional service, regardless of their charges or alleged offences. The establishment and maintenance of prisons is the day-to-day responsibility of the executive branch of government, as authorized and activated by the legislature. The role of the judiciary is to investigate and remedy credible accusations that unsafe and uninhabitable conditions have resulted in the death and injury of incarcerated people in our care. The judiciary directs, through court orders, the restoration of reasonably safe and habitable conditions, and the repair of such injuries. Recent very concerning reports of deaths and unsafe conditions at the Louisville Metro Detention Center raise serious questions about the extent to which the government’s constitutional responsibilities to those incarcerated are being fulfilled and what steps can be taken to address them. under these conditions.