Candidate: Circuit Family Court; Circuit 55, Division 3
I am John A. Schmidt and I am running for Family Court Judge. I have spent my entire legal career representing and protecting families and children. I began practicing in 1981 at the law firm, which I now own. Over the next 37 years, I gained invaluable experience where it matters and that experience makes me the most qualified candidate for this position. I always represented families in divorce, custody, domestic violence and adoption cases. In 1992, Judge Thomas Waller appointed me as Bullitt County’s first Domestic Relations Commissioner and I served until the first Family Court Judge took the bench in 2007. During those 15 years, I heard family law cases and made findings of fact and recommendations to Judge Waller on all the issues that arise in those situations, including custody and child support. I am the only candidate that understands from personal knowledge how to listen to families and make the tough decisions about their lives fairly and in accord with the law. I developed a reputation for treating people before me with compassion and dignity and listening with calm and patience.
After 2007, I remained very active in family law, handling all kinds of cases a Family Court Judge hears. In addition to representing parents, I have been regularly appointed to protect the best interests of abused, dependent and neglected children as a guardian ad litem. There could not be more rewarding or important work.
I also have a substantial practice as a family law mediator. For many years, I have used my experience, legal knowledge, patience and temperament in countless cases to help families in crisis resolve their disputes, sparing them and their children the trauma and expense of court proceedings.
I have also served our current Circuit Judge as Master Commissioner since 2007, assisting in the discharge of its duties and enforcing its judgments. In doing so, I have successfully managed the budget allowed by the state for this work.
I have been married to my wife, Kathleen, for 38 years. We have raised two daughters, Stephanie and Erica, who are the lights of my life. We chose to move to Bullitt County in 1992 to raise our children. I have attended St. Aloysius Catholic Church ever since then. I served on the Board of the Bullitt Family Branch of the YMCA from 1997-2001 and was chosen Volunteer of the Year in 2000,
Family Court Judge is the only elected position I have ever sought. For me, protecting the children of Bullitt County and helping families navigate what is often the most emotional time in their lives is the highest calling I can imagine. It is how I want to finish my career. I will bring a fresh approach to family court while working collaboratively with our current Family Court Judge. I truly believe my personal and professional experience make me the best choice for Family Court Judge.
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 would not want to discuss a specific case but making decisions about the future of a family is difficult. Getting a decision about property division wrong would be bad. However, that pales in comparison to worrying about making good decisions about the future of parents and children. That would keep me up at night.
2. Give an example of a circumstance where you faced an ethical dilemma or problem and explain how you solved it.
I cannot think of a specific example but sometimes the answer the law requires is not necessarily the answer I would personally choose. However, a judge must be faithful to the law.
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?
Above all else, a judge must be fair and impartial. A judge must know the current law and be willing to apply the law objectively. A judge must treat everyone who comes before her or him with the same respect and compassion, regardless of her or his status in life. I have had to rule against people I know. It is not easy but the people who come before the Family Court must believe the judge will apply the law equally. Otherwise, they will lose confidence in the Family Court.
4. As a potential judge, what do you consider to be your greatest strengths? Weaknesses?
My greatest strength is I have shown I can handle the hard work of hearing cases, deciding the credibility of the witnesses before me and making decisions based on the law for the best interests of children and their parents. I have also spent 37 years working in Family Law. I hope I would not have a glaring weakness because this position is too important not to be the best judge I can possibly be.
5. What or who are the major influences in your life and why?
The major influences in my life are my family and my faith. My family is why I believe so strongly in working hard to keep families as safe and healthy as possible despite situations that may fracture them. I know how I would want my children to be treated if they appeared before a family court. I know how precious children are and how both fragile and resilient they can be. Every day, I try to give my own family the same love and support I felt from my parents. My faith and my church family keep me grounded in my life.
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?
All people should be treated respectfully by the court. Many people are involved in family law cases- social workers, school officials, CASA volunteers, attorneys, prosecutors, counselors, not to mention the families themselves. Even when the court must deal with inappropriate or downright harmful behavior, a judge should remain calm and respectful. People need to feel like they have been heard and not dismissed out of hand.
7. Who are your judicial role models and why?
My role models are the judges who have mentored me during my 37 years, particularly retired Judge Thomas Waller. He taught me to carefully consider all sides of a case before deciding an issue. He also felt deeply than parents should put aside their personal animosity to work together for the best interests of their children.
8. Describe a circumstance where you took a difficult or controversial position and how you handled it.
It is difficult to know you are making a decision or taking a position that you know will hurt or upset someone even if it is the fair and just decision. Good people can disagree about what the right decision is. You may see this person out in the community. You may see them in your neighborhood, at the grocery or in a restaurant. I have had this experience and I have learned to remain calm and treat the person with kindness, regardless of what their reaction to me is.
9. How would you describe your general judicial philosophy?
A judge must apply the law as written and as interpreted by the higher appellate courts. It is not the role of a judge to make or interpret the law based solely on his or her own personal beliefs. I also believe all parties are entitled to Due Process and must have an opportunity to be fully heard. That evidence is what forms the basis of a judge’s decision. It is that evidence to which the judge applies the law.
10. What are some of the most significant challenges facing Kentucky's judicial system and how do you propose to address them?
Without a doubt, the increase in the number of families appearing before the Family Court is the major challenge to the Court. This is due in large part to the epidemic of drug addiction many families face. Courts also face the same budgetary constraints as other government services, including the Cabinet for Health and Family Services who must investigate abuse, dependency and neglect cases. I am dedicated to working with the current judge to streamline existing dockets so that people who must appear before the court, including all the participants in the case, spend as little time waiting for their case to be heard as possible. However, the time each family has to be heard must increase and I will work hard so each family has the time it needs to tell the Court about its situation. Tools such as mediation can play an important role in reducing time families must spend in court.
I would also continually strive to identify and advocate for more community services, especially treatment opportunities, for Bullitt County families. Bullitt County has many dedicated community servants and the Family Court Judge should seek out solutions in its own community as well as looking at what other communities have found successful.