The race for the 3rd Appellate District, 1st Division’s Judge of Appeals open seat sees Jacquelin Caldwell against a familiar face to the Court of Appeals, Judge Michael Caperton.
Caperton, a native of Laurel County, previously served on the Court of Appeals between 2007 and 2014. In his reelection bid, Caperton was defeated by Debra Hembree Lambert.
Lambert has since then been elected to the Kentucky Supreme Court, vacating her seat in the Court of Appeals in the process.
Lambert’s open seat is partially the reasoning behind Caldwell choosing now to run.
“It’s an open seat so I’m not trying to unseat an incumbent,” she said. “And that strategically is a better time to run than trying to take down an incumbent.”
Caldwell, originally from Marion County, is the youngest of 15 children, and shares on her website that she comes from a long line of central Kentucky farmers.
She is a graduate of Campbellsville University and earned her Juris Doctor degree in 1999 from the Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville.
Caldwell has 20 years of experience practicing law. She started as a prosecutor, and credits that as teaching her to handle a heavy case load with efficiency and effectiveness. She opened her own law firm in 2003, and says she has been representing families and children ever since. Caldwell says that her journey and interest into law started when she was young. She found herself in an abusive relationship and searched for help. She ended up at a shelter helping those escape from domestic violence. “They helped me get an EPO, like they walked me though the process to do that. Of course, I had to show back up at court in two weeks to get the DVO. But at that point in my life I can promise you, I wouldn’t have even known where to turn, or where to start or how to have gotten one," she said. Because of her past, Caldwell says she wanted to do something that would provide for her and her family, but also wanted to reach out and help others, like she had once been helped. “There are other ways of doing that. There are other ways of helping people even in that same field that doesn’t necessarily mean going to law school or becoming a lawyer. But I liked the idea of that, and I wanted to do that," she said. Caldwell says she believes the Court of Appeals panel needs more voices that have practical experience in domestic relations. “We lost one of our voices at the Court of Appeals who had a pretty good history of practicing domestic relations law, when Debbie Lambert went to the [Kentucky] Supreme Court,” said Caldwell. Caldwell says she knows that some people may point to her never being a judge as a negative. However, she says she isn’t worried about that, and has a different take on the situation. “I don’t worry about it at all. I know [Caperton] makes it an issue that I don’t have judicial experience. Frankly, the law and the statue that make up our court doesn’t require judicial experience. And particularly for Appellate Court Judges, not only is prior trial court experience not required, I think it can often be an encumbrance.”
“I think too many years on the bench certainly, not every judge by any means, but too many years on the bench and you forget that there are real people’s lives waiting on that," she continued. "Because you’re not dealing with that client who is stressed out until this case is over with and can’t move on with their life. The judge doesn’t see that part of it, and they shouldn’t, but I think it’s part of human nature that too many years on the bench and you lose that touch.”
“I think it’s very important to have judges who adhere to pretty stringent legal ethics, and judicial ethics and standards,” she explained, “and I intend to that.”
CAPERTON Prior to graduation from University of Kentucky’s College of Law, Judge Caperton held may various jobs throughout his professional career. “I was a school teacher in chemistry and biology, I taught biology. I worked for a coal company operating heavy equipment. I worked for a construction company, hauling rock to build roads. I was a nigh inspector for the Bureau of Surface Mining, and a field agent for the Kentucky Department of Energy. Plus there are probably some other jobs that come in there, too.” Caperton brings over 20 years of experience in multiple elected positions within Kentucky’s judiciary system and has been endorsed by the Internal Order of Police. “I’ve got district court experience, circuit court experience, Kentucky Court of Appeals experience and any number of different jobs working with people and children.” Caperton says he is running again because of what all he has to offer. “First of all, if you served previously, all legal experience is cumulative. So you bring back all that experience and apply it in the cases that you hear at the Court of Appeals. And at the Court of Appeals, what you really do is give direction to those case law, and statutory law as to new situations that arise via published decisions.” Before his stint on the Court of Appeals, Caperton served 14 years as a District Court judge for the 27th District, which consists of both Knox and Laurel Counties.
“I suppose it’s because I know my job and do my job,” he responded when asked why he thinks people continue to vote for him. “They see that, just that. I mean why does anybody vote for anybody. You don’t really continue voting for someone if you don’t think they know what their job is, or they don’t do their job.” Caperton was also elected to Kentucky’s 27th Circuit Court in 2016, defeating then incumbent, Danny Evens and still holds that office today. “I’ve heard over 100,000 cases,” he said. “In fact, I’m the only candidate that has any experience. My opponent is actually an attorney in Louisville, and lives in Nelson County. I think most people would agree that if you’re going to review what a trial judge does, you probably need some judicial experience. Most people that are supervisors, or monitor, or review what other people do they know how to do that job, or they can’t really review it.”
Election Day is Tuesday. Polls in Kentucky are scheduled to be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.