Citizens of Logan and Todd counties will vote for a new circuit court judge in Tuesday's general election.

The non-partisan election became necessary when former judge Tyler Gill retired with three years left on his current term. Local attornies Joe Hendricks and Joe Ross are the candidates running to fill Gill's seat.

The N-D&L asked both candidates the following questions about themselves and the position.

1) What is your legal background and how has it prepared you to assume the role of Circuit Court Judge?

Hendricks: I graduated from Logan County High School in 1988 and attended Berry College on scholarship and graduated magna cum laude in 1992 with a degree in Economics and Political Science. I served as President of the Baptist Student Union and the Economics Honor Society.

I graduated in 1995 from Georgia State University College of Law where I interned with the United States Attorney's Office and assisted in the prosecution of violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in Federal Court.

I then served as an Assistant District Attorney for the Appalachian Circuit of Georgia and was elected as that Circuit's chief prosecuting attorney in 2004. In my career, I have been lead counsel on well over 50 jury trials. I have been lead counsel in murder cases (including two death penalty cases), several organized crime cases and over 100 cases handled through the Circuit's Drug Court.

I served as Chairman of the Control Board for the local Drug Task Force and was active in a reorganization of the agency to improve the narcotics enforcement for my jurisdiction.

I am currently a partner at Brooks and Hendricks, a general law practice in Russellville. For the last five years, he has helped families with estate planning, civil

Litigation, family law, and criminal defense. I have spent years representing moms, dads, husband and wives in the very same kinds of cases that are heard by the Circuit Court.

Ross: I am currently the Logan County Attorney, serving my third term in that position. Before that, I was an Assistant Commonwealth Attorney for Logan and Todd Counties hired by the late Charles Orange. In my private practice with the law firm of Ross & Teel, and previously with Ross & Williams, I have served the communities of Russellville, Elkton, and surrounding areas. My first job after graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Law was as the first full-time staff attorney for Judge Tyler Gill. I have lived and worked here in this Circuit, serving the people of Logan and Todd Counties, ever since.

I have dedicated my entire career to service here, serving you as a prosecutor and civil attorney daily. I have handled thousands of cases in District and Circuit Court throughout all levels of this Judicial Circuit. I have handled every type of case that comes before a Circuit Judge making me well-versed with the responsibilities of the job. My priority as a prosecutor and as your next Circuit Judge is to uphold the laws and to hold everyone to the same standards. I believe in being an advocate not for one side or the other, but an advocate for the right and just result. I view my responsibility as a representative of the Commonwealth, the prosecutor, as an obligation to get a fair, just result for all: the victim, the defendant, and society as a whole. My responsibility as your Circuit Judge will be no different, to be fair and just to the people that come before me.

2) Are there any existing laws or provisions to the constitution that you could not enforce for any reason?

Hendricks: If elected as Circuit Judge for Logan & Todd Counties, I will take an oath to uphold the Constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. I can take that oath with a clear conscious and will work to ensure that I uphold the Constitution and laws of this Nation and this State.

Ross: As a Judge you surrender your ability to exercise independent choice on enforcement of laws and the Constitution. I am not aware of any laws and definitely Constitutional provisions that I would be unwilling to enforce as Judge. It is possible that I could be conflicted with a law that seems unfair or unjust because history tells us that mankind does pass bad laws. In the event that a judge reaches the point that they cannot or will not enforce a law, the proper recourse is not to refuse but rather to resign and advocate for change. A stand by a judge refusing to enforce laws is futile, as the system is set up to ensure application of the law. If a judge refuses to follow a law, our system mandates enforcement from a higher court. We are and always have been a system of laws, not individual men and women. Judges must ensure the rule of law is followed.

As a prosecutor, I have been in situations where I was duty-bound to enforce a law that I would not have passed myself. If I failed to carry out my duty relative to a law I did not like, my actions would rob one branch of government of the right they are entrusted with. Luckily, as a prosecutor, I have the discretion to craft an outcome in keeping with my conscience. When you pick a jury the question everyone (plaintiff, defendant and judge) asks is "can you follow the law?" If we ask this of our jurors, we must demand it of our judges.

3) Do you think judges' races should be nonpartisan? Why or why not?

Hendricks: Kentucky's judicial races, under the Kentucky Constitution, are non-partisan. I am not aware of any proposal or serious effort to change this provision of Kentucky's Constitution.

Ross: The purpose and responsibilities of any judge, but specifically a Circuit Judge, must be separate and apart from party politics. Partisan political influences upon the rulings of a Judge run afoul of judicial ethics. Our predecessors were wise to make Kentucky Judicial elections non-partisan. The bedrock of the American Constitution is the separation of powers which allows the Judiciary to be independent of partisan influences. The wisdom of these approaches has not changed. Judges are bound to follow the Constitution, statutory law, and legal precedent. My philosophy as County Attorney has always been to allow the County Officials to freely exercise their political approach to an issue, only questioning an action or decision where the action would go beyond the scope of their legal authority.

Each case is unique; it is a Judge's duty to impartially view the facts of a case based on existing law. On most days in Court the law applied to a case is well established; application of the law to the facts of the case is what is fundamental to the outcome. These are not political decisions subject to the whims of the office holders. The highest praise you can give a Judge, Circuit or other, is that they will do the right thing under the law whether or not it is politically popular or expedient. Both sides of the political aisle state that they are against activist judges but often feel compelled to praise them if they are an activist on the issues they care about. We must resist this urge. Judges must possess the courage to always follow the law or else we are a people without law.

4) One of the biggest problems facing Logan County right now is over-crowded at the jail. How much of a responsibility should the Circuit Judge have in helping to alleviate that problem? Is there even anything a Circuit Judge could do to help fix that?

Ross: As my office is the one office that has dual responsibilities not only prosecuting criminals but also advising the Logan County Fiscal Court and Jailer, I can speak on this issue with firsthand knowledge. For those who are not aware, the County Attorney handles all felony criminal matters before they are indicted, which come about either through arrest or a criminal warrant. In that role, I prosecute approximately 80% of the felony docket in District Court before it is transferred to Circuit Court (in 2018 there were 400 felony cases in District Court and 423 cases filed in Circuit Court). In this role I touch the vast majority of all felony criminal cases and am involved with setting the bonds on all of those. I worked with the Commonwealth Attorney and others to initiate a "rocket docket" to not only alleviate jail overcrowding, but to move the defendants toward the help needed to return to a productive law-abiding life.

Judges and prosecutors all take a role in setting appropriate bonds to relieve jail overcrowding. However, overcrowding cannot override the protection of our community, victims, and the defendants themselves. The Circuit Judge should and historically has been a partner with the Jailer to alleviate overcrowding but we all understand the rule of law must take precedent. I have always had a great relationship with Jailer Gregory, working with him to reduce the jail population when appropriate. I look forward continuing that relationship as Judge. Unfortunately, this problem is a societal problem to be resolved by addressing the scourges of violence and addiction that incarcerate an increasing number of people.

5) What are other issues facing Logan County that a Circuit Judge could/should be able to help with? How will you do that if elected?

Hendricks: I will answer Questions 4 and 5 together. The biggest issue impacting the court system, law enforcement and our jails is the worsening drug problem. Since Judge Gill eliminated the drug court program the Seventh Circuit (Logan & Todd Counties) are one of three circuits among the state's 57 Circuits without a drug court. Over the last several years, my experience is that in every aspect of my practice the worsening drug problem is having an impact on every aspect of the judicial system. My experience is born out by the numbers published by the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Court's statistical reports. The number of circuit court drug cases filed in 2013 was 456. Five years later the number of drug cases filed in our circuit had more than doubled, totaling 1,040 cases filed in 2018. What we are doing now simply isn't working.

These numbers only tell part of the story. In my practice, I handle custody cases as well as cases which involve the termination of parental rights. My own experience has shown to me that our drug problem has resulted in increasing number of children removed from homes, increased thefts and violence as well as increasing our jail population.

If elected I will fight to restore the Drug Court Program. Drug Court is a rigorous program which is individually tailored to each offender that provides for frequent testing, intensive counseling and treatment and has been shown to improve an addicts' chances of becoming a productive citizen.

Additionally, I will handle my caseload efficiently and effectively with the goal of bringing cases to trial in a timely manner so that any prisoner awaiting his or her day in court in the jail has his or her case heard quickly.

Ross: The drug epidemic and the impact addiction has on families are challenges currently facing Circuit Judges, District Judges, and prosecutors across this state. From my earliest days as a prosecutor, I saw the inherent value in quality drug treatment options as an alternative to putting defendants in jail without addressing their addiction. Since then, there has been a push toward treatment and against incarceration at the legislative level, as the penalties for most drug offenses have been lowered and prosecutors and Judges encouraged to use treatment alternatives. During that time, however, there have not been increased treatment options, just more people seeking treatment. The result has been a heavier reliance on outpatient treatment in the community with less than ideal results.

Drug Court offers an opportunity to pursue court-managed treatment as an alternative to jail, also serving as a cost effective rehabilitation option for indigent addicts. I was a member of the first Drug Court Team in this Circuit, and I will bring Drug Court back to the Circuit if elected. I saw really encouraging success stories from people that are still sober today as a result of our Drug Court program. After I was elected County Attorney, I still attended the graduations of those I had prosecuted and sentenced to Drug Court as a way to recognize their treatment and celebrate their recovery. The drug problem is systemic and has generational effects on families. We must search out every viable option to address the addiction problem in our community.