Judge Debra Lambert
Candidate: Supreme Court; District 3
I believe I am uniquely qualified to be the next Justice on the Kentucky Supreme Court. I have nearly 30 years of experience as a practicing attorney, Circuit Judge and now, Judge of the Kentucky Court of Appeals. I have always had a passion for justice and for people and I have a reputation for hard work and integrity. I have a passion for serving, not only as a jurist, but by helping to shape judicial rules and policies throughout the Commonwealth.
If elected, I would be a serious-minded judge whose first focus would be to provide a thorough, unbiased and timely review of each case. Judges on the Kentucky Supreme Court sit as a panel of seven. The primary role of the Kentucky Supreme Court is to rule on the cases and controversies that come before it in a fair, impartial, and timely manner. I have a solid respect for the law and protecting the public trust and confidence in the Court as an institution. The Supreme Court is the court of last resort (in most cases) and makes the final call on the controversies. While performing this crucial function, the Court must also be mindful of the cost of litigation and time cost to the parties.
In 2014, I was elected as a Court of Appeals Judge, and I have worked diligently to timely rule on the cases assigned to me, both as a presiding judge and as an associate judge on panel. The Court of Appeals, has the same team work approach as the Supreme Court, along with the independence of individual Justices and what they each bring to the courtroom. As a Justice, I would have a much greater role in court administration work.
During my time as Court of Appeals Judge, I became a certified suicide prevention trainer through The QPR Institute. I worked with the Department of Behavioral Health last year to train over 5000 lawyers at nine different sites throughout the state on how to recognize the signs of suicide and properly intervene to save a life. I value people and feel compelled to attempt to assist others, as I have been assisted.
I attended Eastern Kentucky University and graduated, with distinction, in 1983. I received my law school education from the University of Kentucky, Class of 1989, graduating in the top 25% of my class. My then toddler, born in 1985, is now a practicing attorney. I am proud that I was able to successfully manage a home, a small child, a significant commute to and from law school, and maintain a respectable GPA and class standing.
I am married to Joe Sharpe and we live in Burnside, Kentucky. I have two grown sons, Joseph Patrick Lambert, an attorney in Mount Vernon, KY; and John Ryan Lambert, Director of Development at Rockcastle Regional Hospital. I claim my husband’s daughters as my own! They are Jessica Sharpe (Nick) Stringer and Chelsea Sharpe, whose fiancé is Evan Woolums. Jessica and Nick have blessed us with a beautiful grandson, Sam Stringer.
I have a webpage, www.judgelambert.com and a Facebook page where voters can follow me on the campaign trail throughout the 27 county district. I ask for your vote and support on May 22nd to fill the upcoming vacancy as the first woman from our district to so serve. Thank you for your consideration.
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.
No particular case comes to mind, but it is a fairly common experience that I wake up thinking about a case and possible solutions to the controversies. I have gotten up at night to research or write a few notes on many occasions.
2. Give an example of a circumstance where you faced an ethical dilemma or problem and explain how you solved it.
Again, no circumstance comes to mind. I have been contacted, on rare occasions, by persons seeking to speak with me about a case. I have not had an attorney make any attempt to improperly influence me, but clients or their friends or family have done so on a few occasions. I always explain that the contact violates ethical rules and that I must recuse from the case. I then report the contact to my paralegal who makes an in-house note of my recusal, should the case ever come before me.
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?
Judges should possess intelligence, knowledge of the law, respect for the court, have varied backgrounds in the law and, in the case of an appellate court, have a strong sense of respect for the other judges and the ability to work in a collegial setting.
I believe that I am uniquely qualified to serve in this capacity at this point in my career. I have had an extensive, varied and successful legal career and have earned a reputation for hard work and integrity. I have a passion for serving, not only as a jurist, but for helping to shape judicial rules and policies throughout the Commonwealth. One of the reasons why I ran for my current appellate seat was a deep frustration with the length of time it takes to practice a case before the Court of Appeals. I have worked diligently to timely rule on the cases assigned to me, both as a presiding judge and as an associate judge on panel. A Justice must involve themselves in the rule making and judge and attorney discipline matters. My experiences have prepared me well for this role.
While a family court judge, I established an in-school prevention program we called “Whatever it Takes”. In addition to the primary adjudication duties of the office, I would be interested in working with other educational and mental health professionals to extend the concept of the “Whatever It Takes” prevention program across the state. I believe this can be accomplished by creating a pre-packaged curriculum covering topics such as truancy, substance abuse, bullying and cyberbullying, blended families, suicide prevention, etc. My experience in developing motivational, Judge-led educational programs and expertise in the drug court field would enable me to work with the Department of Education and other professionals to create a portable curriculum that could be used in elementary/middle schools throughout the state.
As for qualifications, having practiced law for more than 16 years, I am attuned to the legal needs of Kentuckians. I love the law and all its promises of fairness and predictability. I grew up very modestly in a home where a strong work ethic was deeply instilled. My parents did not have the opportunity to graduate high school. They were bright and hardworking and valued education highly. That type of upbringing leaves you with a sense that integrity and hard work are the essential requirements of life. I believe my parents gave me those strengths and they have served me well.
4. As a potential or sitting judge, what do you consider to be your greatest strengths? Weaknesses?
My strength as a judge is my varied legal background and my appellate court experience. I am the only candidate with experience as an appellate court level judge and have more years of law practice than my opponents. I have earned a reputation for hard work and integrity.
My weaknesses include not being good at delegating work to others and believing I can fix anything by watching YouTube videos. Though I helped my Dad from time to time in his body shop, I can’t fix as many things as I take apart.
5. What or who are the major influences in your life and why?
My joyful, hard-working, hilarious mother is my greatest influence. I am also a spiritual person and gain much from my personal spiritual beliefs. But who isn’t influenced by their Mother and God?
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?
Once in a dependency, neglect and abuse case, the social workers had been misled by a police officer who claimed the accused father had confessed, on video, to sexually abusing a child. Ultimately, I directed that we all watch the video together in the courtroom. When the confession was not as described, I immediately ordered that the children be returned to the parents and the case dismissed.
7. Who are your judicial role models and why?
Chief Justice Rehnquist was the U.S. Supreme Court Justice I heard about most during my childhood and Justice Scalia came onto the Supreme Court during my first semester of law school. My legal philosophy tends to be more along the lines of these two jurists. I have a copy of Justice Scalia’s book he wrote with Professor Bryan Garner titled “Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts.” I have found it to be invaluable in my work as an appellate court judge. I also enjoy reading Chief Justice Roberts’ opinions and admire his writing skills.
8. Describe a circumstance where you took a difficult or controversial position and how you handled it.
In September 1999, I was appointed family court judge for Lincoln, Pulaski and Rockcastle counties and immediately saw families in great distress. I became a volunteer drug court judge and a volunteer judge in four different middle schools in my district. I had what is now known as the heaviest docket in the state, but I could do no less. I was recognized nationally for my drug court work and was inducted into the National Drug Court Hall of Fame in 2002. Through working with each school, at risk children were identified and I met with them for first period, for ten weeks each semester. I borrowed some material and created some material and tried to build on individual strengths of each child. We had lessons on heroism, school attendance, honesty, etc. If I am elected, I want to work with the Kentucky Department of Education to create a standard, portable, electronic curriculum so that any judge and school system can work together, without any additional monies being necessary, to help the young people in every community in the Commonwealth.
9. How would you describe your general judicial philosophy?
I don’t believe that judges should interject themselves too much into the controversies that come before them. The cases are not about us, our personalities or belief systems. We have the framework of the law and should apply it, not robotically, but without our own biases. I have a healthy respect for all three branches of government. However, I do believe we, as judges have a certain gravitas in our communities and some may choose to use that gravitas in a public service fashion. I have been trained to teach suicide prevention and do so all over the state of Kentucky.
10. What are some of the most significant challenges facing Kentucky's judicial system and how do you propose to address them?
Unfortunately, Courts are inundated with criminal cases which have substance abuse issues at the core of the criminal act, and family court issues which are caused, in large part, by substance abuse issues. It is not just an Opioid Crisis; it is a substance abuse crisis. In some areas, heroin has moved in to replace the initial craving for prescription drugs, in other areas, methamphetamine replaces the lost prescription drug. Judges are not legislators and are generally left to only interpret and apply the law. However, I personally believe that judges can put their own volunteer actions in place and believe the in-school; judge-led program I described above can reach children at risk BEFORE they turn down a road to addiction. Judges can and do participate in discussion concerning drug policy and I have a national reputation as a drug court pioneer, with a particular focus on families and children, and can add my commonsense voice to the discussion.