I am interested in this judgeship for three main reasons. First, as a long-time practitioner in the family court system and a three-time adoptive parent, I believe in the system, and I understand the importance of having competent, experienced judges who have practiced in the system and understand, from day one, how the system works and how to run an effective docket. As my resume illustrates, I am extremely qualified for this position. My extensive experience in the family court and diversity of practice has given me the tools I would need to take over a division of family court seamlessly. My Guardian Ad Litem work has been in divisions 3 and division 1, so my election to division 4 would not result in many conflicts that would require case transfer and burden the other divisions of family court and administrative staff. More importantly, as an adoptive parent, I understand the importance of a proactive, hard-working judge who efficiently acts in the best interest of children in the system, moving them toward permanency when returning them home is not an option.
Second, my many years of experience as a Guardian Ad Litem for abused and neglected children has allowed me to develop an understanding of the most important role the family court plays: protecting those who cannot protect themselves. Every week, countless children are involved in Dependency/Abuse and Neglect dockets who are helpless to protect themselves and rely on the family court—all the staff, attorneys, and most importantly, a competent, experienced judge with the insight to understand when they are in danger, and a willingness to act in their best interest. It was my role as Guardian that led me to consider adopting my first child, and I have now adopted his two younger siblings. Many times, when working on a case, I have considered what might have happened to my children in a difference circumstance, and how it might affect them, and that insight has allowed me to understand that while the court cannot fix every problem, every day it is a life saver to countless children.
Pettingill v. Pettingill, 480 S.W 3d 920 (Ky. Sup Ct. 2015) is my most recent case of special significance. I partnered with the counsel for the Mary Byron Project on an appeal out of Jefferson Family Court, Division 6, in a domestic violence matter relating to judicial use of lethality factors. “In this recent landmark case, the Kentucky Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s decision granting a protection order which relied in part on the judge’s knowledge of lethality factors”.1 In Pettingill, “The court confirmed that Judge Bowles did not take judicial notice and improperly interject them into the matter. Rather, he used his appropriate and permissible judicial knowledge of domestic violence lethality factors after all adjudicative facts had been proven through testimony.”2
This case clarified for practitioners and family court judges that judges can rely on their own knowledge, so long as they follow the statute in making their findings.
Finally, my experience in a hard-fought case like Pettingill v. Pettingill gives me a keen understanding of the importance of a skilled and knowledgeable judge in protecting not just children in family court, but any party who may be at risk in a violence or potential violence situation, the ability to discern that type of situation is borne of long term experience and knowledge within the system. I possess that experience and knowledge.
In this race, Citizens for Better Judges endorsed me over the three other candidates. Citizens is “to the proposition that the public is entitled to a competent, conscientious and professional judiciary”. After a rigorous interview of each candidate and review of our credentials, they believe I am the best candidate for this position, and it is an honor to have their endorsement.
1 The Use of Risk Assessments in Judicial Decision Making, by Liberty Adrich. Domestic Violence Report. June/July 2016, p. 71.
2 Using Judicial Knowledge of Lethality Factors in Civil Domestic Violence Matters, by Julie Saffren. Domestic Violence Report. June/July 2016, p. 73.
Bryan Gatewood has practiced family law for nearly twenty-one years, maintaining a private practice where he has represented clients in all types of family court cases—child support, divorce, custody, domestic violence, and adoptions. His appellate experience includes arguing custody issues before the Kentucky Supreme Court and Kentucky Court of Appeals, and a recent landmark Kentucky Supreme Court published case (Pettingill v. Pettingill, 480 S.W.3d 920 (2015)), where he partnered with the Mary Byron Project to establish the right of Family Court Judges to utilize judicial knowledge in domestic violence cases. Pettingill was discussed nationally in the June/July 2016 edition of Domestic Violence Report.
Bryan has worked in Family Court for fourteen (17) years, representing abused and neglected children as a guardian ad litem, and presently works in the Jefferson Family Court, division 3, in that capacity. This work included abuse and neglect cases, representation of children in termination of parental rights cases, and in adoptions. He previously worked for two years as a parent’s attorney representing parents accused of abuse or neglect of their child. This representation included abuse and neglect cases, as well as terminations of parental rights.
Bryan is a graduate of Bellarmine University where he majored in history and business administration, and of the University of Louisville, where he earned both his Juris Doctor and his Master of Business Administration degrees. He is most proud of his accomplishments as the adoptive father of three beautiful children, Ian, Camille, and Caroline.
1. In your career, have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and wished you had handled a case or legal issue differently? Describe the situation and any lessons you learned from the experience.
I think attorneys always second guess things that happen, particularly in the courtroom, and I have often done just that. I am thinking of a divorce case where our appraiser was unwilling to testify at trial. I had let the client choose her own appraiser. Right before trial, he refused to testify. What I learned is that you always need to be sure you hire the right professionals who are willing to finish the job.
2. Give an example of a circumstance where you faced an ethical dilemma or problem and explain how you solved it.
I once represented a client in a probate situation where I believed my client was not being truthful with me and that she was attempting to deceive her children. I withdrew from the case knowing that the judge knew my reputation. It was clear from his reaction when I withdrew, without me saying anything, that he needed to handle the case carefully.
3. What do you believe are the most important qualities of a judge, and how has your professional background and life experience helped you develop those qualities?
I believe experience and empathy are the most important qualities in a judge. My professional experience—21 years of practice in family court, including appellate and state supreme court work, and 18 years representing abused and neglected children have given me the professional experience for the job. My personal experience, as an adoptive Dad (three times) gives me the empathy that is so important to be a judge.
4. As a potential or sitting judge, what do you consider to be your greatest strengths? Weaknesses?
I think my strength is in my insight, particularly in abuse and neglect cases, to glean what is really going on in a case, and then make a good decision efficiently. As far as weaknesses go, I am from a large Lebanese family, and we are very frank with one another. My tendency not to sugar coat things might be a challenge on the bench.
5. What or who are the major influences in your life and why?
This is a difficult question. I think we all have many people who influence our lives…our parents, friends. In thinking about it, I have to say the major influences in my life right now are my adopted children. I say that because they remind me every day that no matter where we come from, we all have the potential to be kind and to do good things. They do that every day, and it keeps me grounded in a world where kindness is easy to forget.
6. Have you witnessed any particular injustices inside or outside the courtroom and how did you respond to those circumstances? How will you respond to similar circumstances as a judge?
I have, through my years, seen plenty of injustice in the courtroom. I am thinking of a family court judge who, based on my perception, was biased against my client, who was a parent in a same sex couple. He ruled in a way that I believed was fundamentally unjust, and not in the best interest of the six-year-old child involved, cutting my client out of a six-year old’s life. I handled it by appealing him all the way to the state supreme court.
7. Who are your judicial role models and why?
From a historical perspective, my judicial role model is Justice Thurgood Marshall. He was never afraid to take a stand, historical as the first African American Supreme Court Justice, and the eloquence of his writing made his opinions a joy to read. More locally, I consider retired Judge Stephen George of the Jefferson Family Court as a role model on the family court bench. I say that because of how he conducted himself on the bench. He treated all litigants, and their counsel, with respect and judicial temperance. He was polite, and efficient. You could quickly get a date on his docket, and a well-written decision would arrive quickly after a hearing. If I am honored to serve in the same capacity as him, I will strive to treat people with the respect and fairness for which Judge George was known.
8. Describe a circumstance where you took a difficult or controversial position and how you handled it.
I took a controversial position in the case I reference in question six by appealing a family court judge who I believed was doing the wrong thing. At the time, it was a controversial position—that same sex couples, although they were not permitted to legally marry, had parenting rights in the children they were raising. I knew it would be an unpopular position given the make-up of our state supreme court at the time and the socially charged nature of the debate at the time, but I argued it like my life depended on it because it was the right thing to do. I lost, but the court, in an identical case, reversed itself several years later, relying on the legal argument I advanced in my case. They even cited my case…although they didn’t acknowledge they were reversing themselves.
9. How would you describe your general judicial philosophy?
I believe judges must follow the law, whatever their view of it might be. In family court, judges must also be empathetic and careful fact finders, especially when the best interests of children are involved.
10. What are some of the most significant challenges facing Kentucky's judicial system and how do you propose to address them?
I think that, particularly with regard to family court, resources are always an issue. From enough social workers to services for mental health issues to adoptive and foster homes, the system is always struggling. I would be an advocate for the family court, and push for the necessary resources, explaining why they were necessary and the consequences of failing to provide the resources whenever possible.