Candidate: Circuit Family Court; Circuit 54, Division 4
Counties: Boone and Gallatin
I am a family law attorney with an office in Florence, Kentucky. I have practiced law, primarily family law, for more than 16 years. I opened my office in 2008 and have grown it into a successful practice that employs several attorneys and staff.
The reason I entered this race is because I believe voters should have a candidate with significant family law experience, especially in the areas of divorce and custody, including personal experience with these issues. Many of my clients tell me that they read my website and wanted an attorney who understood what they were going through, both emotionally and financially. I believe many of the people going to family court want a judge with this real-life experience, too. When I did not see any candidates with this type of experience, I decided that this was my chance to serve my community.
I am licensed to practice law in Kentucky, having earned my law degree in 1996 from Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University. I also have two bachelors’ degrees in management and information systems from NKU. Prior to practicing law, I had extensive experience in management in several industries that gave me a solid understanding of business practices outside of the legal industry, including bookkeeping, payroll and taxes, human resources, and other skills. This background has been extremely useful as family practitioner, especially in understanding and determining property divisions and child-support calculations.
Throughout my practice, I have acted as a pro bono attorney for Legal Aid of the Bluegrass; a volunteer guardian-ad-litem for Children’s Law Center; a warning order attorney; conservator; mediator; collaborative lawyer; and a court-appointed guardian ad litem for children, mothers, fathers, incarcerated persons, and disabled persons.
In addition to my law practice, I am or have been a board member for the Brighton Center, Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission, and Family Promise, and I served on site-based decisionmaking council for Ryland Heights Elementary in Kenton County. I participated in the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Northern Kentucky, graduating in the Class of 2007. I also have volunteered for several sports teams, schools, churches, and for various community projects and events.
The most important thing in my life is my family. I am married to Chris Walker, who works as a general manager in Hebron, Ky. Chris is a native of England who moved to Kentucky with his company in 1999. Together, we have four children and five grandchildren. Jemima Walker lives in England with her three children, Chloe, Olivia, and Liliana. Our other three children of our blended family -- Stuart Walker, Jennifer Lichtefeld, and Nate Hoffman -- live in Boone County, Ky. Jennifer has two children, Evelynn and Jack. I am a Northern Kentucky native raised by Robert and Mary Hoffman in Erlanger, Kentucky, along with my 13 siblings. I attended St. Henry Elementary and High School.
I truly believe that I am the best candidate for this job because of my extensive professional and personal experiences.
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.
Yes. Multiple times, but mostly when I was a new attorney. Typically, the issue usually concerned cross-examination questions that I had asked in court. Over time, I learned to better frame my questions in a manner that boxed in the witness so that he or she could not lie or evade the truth.
2. Give an example of a circumstance where you faced an ethical dilemma or problem and explain how you solved it.
I had a circumstance where I believed my client was planning to lie to the court. I told my client I would not condone that behavior and I withdrew as the lawyer in the case.
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?
The most important quality a judge can have is to be a good listener. If a judge does not pay attention, crucial facts can be missed and an unjust outcome could result. I took college classes to learn effective communication skills and learned that to be an effective communicator, you must first be a good listener. I have actively practiced these skills throughout my career. In trial work, it is imperative to carefully listen to the questions asked, answers given, and to pay attention to witnesses’ and litigants’ body language to determine an effective line of crossexamination. In meetings, I also pay attention to the conversations so as to ask appropriate questions and gather all of the evidence, and not just the facts that a person chooses to tell me.
4. As a potential or sitting judge, what do you consider to be your greatest strengths? Weaknesses?
Listening is my greatest strength. Other strengths include strong organizational and technology skills and years of experience handling family court cases of every type, except status offenses. My weakness is that I sometimes raise my voice when I believe I am attacked.
5. What or who are the major influences in your life and why?
The biggest influence in my life is my father, Robert Hoffman, who practiced law until he was 91 years old. He died two years ago. My dad taught me to have patience, not to always show all of my cards, and to show love and compassion for others.
There are several other major influences in my life. First, my children, Jen and Nate, have been the inspiration for me to work hard and keep going even when I wanted to quit. My desire to take care of them has always forced me to improve my life to set a good example for them.
Second, my husband, Chris Walker, has supported me and believed in me more than I believed in myself at times. I am forever grateful for him being a part of my life.
Finally, my divorce from my first husband was particularly influential in my life. The emotional upheaval and financial difficulties that came with it forced me to rebuild myself from the inside out. I learned to be present, not take anything for granted, and to question circumstances around me. I also learned to protect my inner self. Most importantly, I learned how to forgive.
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?
The most disturbing injustice I have seen is the misinterpretation of a party’s anger, sadness, and fear during a divorce. Often, attorneys write off a person as controlling or vengeful and their statements are dismissed as unimportant because the attorneys don’t want to hear the sadness and anger. Ultimately, this means that their arguments aren’t properly presented because the attorney did not emphatically listen to their client. As a judge, I will listen to all parties, and if I sense that an issue was not fully explored, I can ask more questions. I want to make sure people who come before me feel as though they’ve been heard, given the limited time circumstances.
7. Who are your judicial role models and why?
Judge Linda Bramlage is my judicial role model because she is efficient, open-minded, fair, and consistent.
8. Describe a circumstance where you took a difficult or controversial position and how you handled it.
Choosing to run as a judicial candidate in this election was difficult for several reasons. First, I wanted to protect my employees. I kept them informed, attempted to provide for their stability and supported them in looking for other employment even though I wanted them to wait until after the election was over. Ultimately, all but one of my employees left for security reasons. It was my decision to enter this race, and it’s appropriate that I suffer the consequences of my choices, and not my employees. Second, some of my friends and family members are supporting another candidate who had asked for their support before I decided to enter the race. My feelings were hurt, but I also understood that we all have choices to make in life. My choice to run did not trump their choice to support another candidate. Again, I had to maintain ownership of the decision to move forward knowing that I did not have their support. I am doing my best not to let it ruin these relationships
9. How would you describe your general judicial philosophy?
I believe my general judicial philosophy will be to follow the legal precedent as much as possible. If precedent was not available or it was vague, then I would use common sense to reasonably interpret the intent of the statute or case law in question.
10. What are some of the most significant challenges facing Kentucky's judicial system and how do you propose to address them?
Poverty, mental health, and lack of resources are the most significant challenges that I recognize in the family court judicial system. I hope to increase the access to the justice system for the poor by using technology and increase the use of standardized forms. I would utilize family court rules to review mental health issues when I am notified of them. I take this issue very seriously, especially with regard to custody issues. Community resources are necessary to the court system. I hope to work with churches, charitable organizations, and local providers as much as possible to improve resource availability while at the same time trying to minimize the public cost for these resources. It is not the responsibility of the community to pay for the problems arising in family court, but it is imperative for the community to be involved in finding solutions to these problems.