SHEPHERDSVILLE - They are three candidates who had some thoughts about running for the seat of district judge in Bullitt County when current officeholder Bailey Taylor decided to retire.
Little did they know that the retirement would come in the middle of Taylor’s four-year term.
As a result, Jennifer Porter, Nick Raley and John Wooldridge find themselves in a race for the remaining two years on the bench.
The verdict will remain out until the voting jury returns on Nov. 4 from the polls.
Throughout her life, Porter has served the community. Now, she wishes to serve the people in a different capacity - as district judge.
“It was a great opportunity,” Porter said of the race. “It was a time for me to step up and step out.”
Having practiced law for the past 14 years, Porter believes she is qualified to serve as district judge.
“I know my community,” said Porter, 41. “I have a real love for the community.”
As a judge, Porter said it is important to use all your experiences in the position. She said it is important to be tough and fair but to also look at how it affects the community.
In dealing with juvenile matters, Porter said the Court Appointed Special Advocates program is something she will continue to utilize. She was co-founder of the Bullitt County program that allows adult volunteers to be part of the court system to assist the young offenders.
“I love people and I love helping people,” said Porter. “A judge is often in a position to do that.”
As judge, Porter said a goal is to make decisions that will help make the community a better place to live.
She said a judge must present an atmosphere to all parties that a decision hasn’t been made before they enter the courtroom.
A judge must treat everyone in the system with respect and with dignity.
In asking for a person’s vote, Porter said she has a broad base of experience.
Besides her private practice work, Porter has served as the planning and zoning attorney and as assistant city attorney in Mount Washington.
She also stresses her community involvement. In addition to helping to form the CASA program locally, Porter has been a long-time member of the Bullitt County Woman’s Club, the YMCA board and at her church.
“I believe all those experiences are important,” said Porter. “I have had experience in all areas of the court system.”
Many of the district court issues will not be criminal cases, according to Porter, pointing to things such as evictions and probates.
For the past 21 years, Raley has been involved with the court system in some way. It is that broad experience that Raley believes is vital to be an effective district judge.
Starting out in the juvenile system as the CDW representative in the court system and then working as the victim advocate for county attorney Walt Sholar.
In the commonwealth attorney’s office, Raley worked as the detective and then moved into a prosecutor’s role eight years ago.
“I have the broadest experience,” said Raley. “I have seen all parts of the system.”
Raley said he made it known that he would run for Taylor’s job when it became open. Like the others, he was a bit surprised it came so soon.
“It was a natural progression,” Raley said of running for district judge.
In talking with the public, Raley believes people want a judge who is experienced, honest, has integrity and is concerned about the crime issues.
Many are upset with the speed in which people can be arrested and then allowed back on the streets.
The 47-year-old attorney said that he explains his understanding of their concerns and that he has the experience to deal with those issues.
Of the candidates, Raley said he has the most current experience. He has dealt with the issues of new crimes, such as methamphetamine, and has prosecuted all types of serious crimes.
Another advantage Raley said he enjoys is a 21-year history of working with law enforcement and court personnel. As district judge, Raley said you have to work with police who are calling at all hours trying to get search warrants.
“You have to be able to tell them and you have to be right,” Raley said of issuing search warrants.
When making his pitch to voters, Raley said he is the best candidate because of his varied experience, his varied background, his reputation in the community and among his peers, his experience as a trial attorney and his ability to get along with other people.
“You learn it by actually doing it,” Raley said of understanding the court system. “You learn how to be a judge by being a trial lawyer.”
There is no question why Wooldridge believes he is the best candidate to serve as district judge - experience.
Before his work as a private attorney doing civil and criminal work, Wooldridge served for 16 years as a prosecutor in the commonwealth attorney’s office.
When Thomas Waller won a special election to fill a circuit judgeship, Wooldridge was appointed to serve as commonwealth attorney.
In his practice, Wooldridge said he has had a broad base of experience. Dealing with issues such as traffic, estates and criminal defense are all areas to be confronted by a district judge.
“The district court has a lot of criminal work,” said Wooldridge. “You need to have some experience.”
The opportunity to see criminal cases from both the defense and the prosecution viewpoint is a key and Wooldridge said he is the only candidate with that experience.
“If you haven’t been on both sides, how can you say you’re fair and impartial,” asked Wooldridge, 60.
The office of district judge is a high volume setting where many cases go through the system. Wooldridge said his work ethic is one that has proven that he is a hard worker who will not be swamped by the volume of cases.
To be a good judge, Wooldridge believes the qualities needed include being able to listen, being courteous to both sides, understanding the emotion of a case, making a fair verdict in a timely manner and using life experiences to help make solid decisions.
“I’ve shown that I have worked hard and taken care of my clients,” said Wooldridge. “I have the experience and work ethic to do the job of district judge in Bullitt County.”