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3 of 4 African-American judges retain seats in Jefferson

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by Jason Riley, Courier Journal

A little less than two years ago, retirements left Jefferson County with no African Americans among its 40 judges in circuit, district or family court.

Heeding a call for more diversity on the bench, Gov. Steve Beshear appointed four African Americans to fill judicial vacancies over the last year or so — and Tuesday night, three of those four choices were validated by voters.

But it certainly wasn’t easy for Circuit Court Judge Brian Edwards, in Division 11, who eked by John VanderToll, winning by only about 300 votes.

And District Judge Erica Lee Williams had an even tougher struggle with A. Christine Ward, finishing about 200 votes ahead, and leaving the normally loquacious Williams nearly speechless.

“This is a rare occasion,” she said laughing at her loss of words. “I don’t know how many other races were this close, but I am just thankful.”

Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens, in Division 6, however, left no doubt, easily defeating Thomas Joseph Cannon by collecting 60 percent of the vote.

“The governor made his decision because I was the most qualified candidate for the position, and the voters of Louisville have validated his choice,” Stevens said in an interview about his appointment and Tuesday’s results.

Division 11

In District Court Division 11, Gina Kay Calvert beat Judge Sadiqa Reynolds, who was appointed last year.

“The community has spoken, and they realize that it is important to have the most experienced people on the court,” said Calvert, who has spent 20 years as a trial attorney in district, family and circuit court and was a former prosecutor.

Also Tuesday, Jefferson District Judge Katie King beat her challenger, longtime former judge Jim Green.

King, who earned about 55 percent of the vote, said the victory was the result of the hard work she had put in on the bench.

“I’m very humbled by the results,” she said. “I really feel I proved myself over the last two years. “

In a bit of a surprise, Sandra L. McLaughlin beat incumbent District Court Division 3 Judge Claude Randall Prather, who was first elected in 2002. McLaughlin, who took 52 percent of the vote, won despite an incident in 2004 in which she was fired as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney amid allegations she grabbed and berated a juror who helped acquit a man accused of rape.

McLaughlin has denied touching the juror in anger or doing anything inappropriate.

“I’m really excited to be able to bring my life experience to the bench,” McLaughlin said last night, calling Prather a fine man and worthy opponent. “I hope I can fill his shoes honorably.”

Prather wasn’t the only judge unseated, as Mason Trenaman, who was appointed last year in Division 13 but ran for the Division 14 seat, was beaten by defense attorney Stephanie Pearce Burke, who had finished ahead of Trenaman in the May primary as well.

“I am very excited and it just shows you can win a positive campaign by getting out and meeting the voters in the county from end to end,” Burke said.

Other races

In other District Court races:

Judge Jennifer Bryant Wilcox, who was appointed to the bench in September 2009, beat attorney Steven Parks.

Judge Sheila Collins, who has been on the bench since 1998, had no problem with her challenger, Nichole Compton.

And in Division 13, Deana “Dee” McDonald beat Ellie Kerstetter.

Reporter Jason Riley can be reached at (502) 584-2197.

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Written by Symphony

November 11, 2010 at 9:00 am

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