know about 30th Circuit Court, Division 7 – 89.3 WFPL News Louisville
Kentucky is one of ten states that elects judges at all levels of its court system through nonpartisan elections. Justices of 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, putting them through primary elections on May 17 to determine who will advance to the general election on November 8.
The Kentucky Circuit Courts are trial courts of general jurisdiction, covering felony criminal cases and major claims civil litigation. The 30th Circuit, Division 7 seat has been held by Judge Audra Eckerle since 2007. Eckerle is running for the District 4, Division 1 seat on the Court of Appeals, with three candidates running to fill her Circuit Court seat.
- Melissa Logan Bellows44, it’s appPrivate attorney working in corporate law.
- Critt Cunningham is assistant prosecutor of the Commonwealth and Deputy Division Chief of the Violent Crimes Unit. Cunningham has not yet responded to our voter guide survey.
- Theodore “Ted” Shouse54, is criminal defense attorney who organized a group of attorneys to represent accused protesters in 2020.
WFPL News sent a three-question survey to all judicial candidates in the nine primary races that affected 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 judge position?
Bellows: Through 17 years of experience, over 5 years as Judge Conrad’s staff attorney, I have the experience to be an excellent judge. Working closely on many trials, moving hours, and drug courts, I know what it takes to be a good judge, having gained invaluable experience from a judge’s perspective. After working for Judge Conrad, I worked as a plaintiffs attorney in insurance subrogation and then mortgage litigation. I have acquired the tools and experience to apply the law fairly and accordingly. I will adhere to the three pillars of every capable judge: Integrity, Impartiality and Independence.
House: For 23 years, I have represented mostly economically disadvantaged individuals facing serious criminal charges, as a public defender for 11 years and in private practice for 12 years. The Circuit Court is primarily a trial court; I have tried cases from one end of Kentucky to the other. I have seen good judges all over Kentucky and I want to use what I have learned to improve the court system in Jefferson County. In 2020 I organized a group of over 100 volunteer attorneys to represent people arrested protesting for racial justice. My experience will allow me to bring a new lens, one that hasn’t been there before, to the Circuit Court bench. I plan to establish a mental health court as soon as I take office, push for changes to the rules on how search warrants are obtained, and advocate for more transparency in the courts.
What is your judicial philosophy and how will it affect your actions in court?
Bellows: My philosophy is that everyone should have a voice in court. I will diligently listen to each side and decide what is best under current law. With such a high caseload, being organized is key to good change and flow in the courtroom.
House: I’m not sure a circuit court judge should have a judicial philosophy. As a trial court judge, I will be bound by Kentucky rules, statutes and case law. Judicial philosophies are generally reserved for appellate judges. I will say this: my guiding principles will be fairness, dignity and love of neighbor. Everyone must be treated equally. I will recognize the inherent dignity of all persons who come before me. I believe that an honest love for our neighbor will improve the administration of justice. And by love, I mean the honesty to see things as they really are and the commitment to effect real change by addressing systemic racial and economic inequities in our justice system.
In light of recent reports of deaths and unsafe conditions at the Louisville Metropolitan Detention Center, what is the role of the judiciary in maintaining a safe and accountable jail?
Bellows: We need to make sure that the people who work there are paid properly and that everyone is closely supervised. The situation calls for good leadership from the top, and those in management must always be vigilant. The jail must be fully staffed and the flow of illegal drugs must be stopped. Additionally, it would employ home incarceration for nonviolent offenders, including drug-related offenders.
House: First, Jefferson County judges should take a hard look at how bail is set. The jail is packed with people who haven’t been convicted of anything. People who haven’t been charged with violent crimes are languishing in an overcrowded and understaffed jail because they can’t pay their bail. This is not fair. This is not fair. There are a host of ways to monitor people before their trials that do not include imprisonment. Second, judges have a responsibility to ensure the safety of incarcerated people who have cases pending before them. Judges should closely monitor the functioning of the prison. Eight people have died in jail in less than six months. Those eight people had cases pending before a court, before a judge. In the current crisis, I believe that all judges in Jefferson County should review their cases to see if there are any non-violent offenders who could be released under a closely supervised form of release until jail is safe.