Candidates criticize opponents in forum

Mark Bennett

With Election Day nearing, politicians seeking office aren’t holding any punches.

Three of the four Campbell Co. Circuit Judge candidates participated in a question and answer forum in Budig Theatre Oct. 4 that quickly turned into a debate.

The forum, sponsored by the Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement, consisted of attorney Steve Franzen, District Judge Gregory Popovich and current Circuit Judge Julie Reinhardt Ward, all Chase College of Law graduates. Charles Lester, the other candidate, was attending a funeral according to organizers.

The focus of the discussion was to inform students about why the Circuit Judge election is important, but instead turned into a way for the candidates to criticize their opponents.

Reinhardt Ward, a graduate of NKU, received criticism from both opponents for being appointed to her position by Gov. Ernie Fletcher. Franzen said there is no process by which a judge can be chosen based solely on merit, rather than who they know.

He said an election is “the only real process that we have to try to ensure that the right person gets the job, not the person who happens to have connections – or who is picked because they happen to know the right people.”

Popovich said he did not apply for the circuit judge position earlier this year, and if he had his 11 years as a judge would have made him a better candidate than Reinhardt Ward. He said Reinhardt Ward’s short term as circuit judge does not make her the most qualified.

Reinhardt Ward said she has been doing a good job as circuit judge, and had she not been, the public would have been informed.

Franzen criticized both of his opponents for being comparatively inexperienced. He said Reinhardt Ward has never handled a jury or bench trial during her time as circuit judge, and that neither of the candidates have been city attorneys, county prosecutors or a Kentucky Supreme Court attorney.

Franzen said Popovich’s position as district judge is incomparable to a circuit judge because the district court handles less important cases than the circuit court.

“You all have been down to district court,” Franzen said, “for speeding tickets, DUIs, things like that. We’re talking about circuit court, where cases can sometimes last a month.

“A judge needs more experience than the attorneys and litigants.”

Popovich cited his experience as a judge in helping him keep his opinions out of court decisions. He accused attorneys of stretching the ethical limits of the law and that a judge is being elected, not an attorney.

Franzen defended himself against attacks from his opponents about zero tolerance for frivolous lawsuits being unethical. “I’m bound by law to throw out frivolous lawsuits,” he said. “This is not a frivolous system; it’s an important legal system in which people’s rights are at stake.”

Reinhardt Ward disagreed. “We are not supposed to tell you that we have zero tolerance for frivolous lawsuits,” she said.

“That implies that we have a predetermined disposition of that case, and that’s not what a judge does. A judge is supposed to be fair and impartial.”