Judge James T. "Jamie" Jameson,
42nd Judicial Circuit Court
Published first in KAS Monthly, Judge Jameson has authored an article titled
"The Status of Blood & Breath 'Searches' Conducted During a DUI Investigation: Does DUI Law in Kentucky Need Cleaning Up?"
(to view article, click title)
KAS Monthly: We always like to begin by asking judges to tell our readers a little bit about themselves—their background, hobbies, interests, maybe a few things that people might be surprised to learn about them.
Judge Jameson: I was raised on a small beef cattle farm as the youngest of five children that are all at least twelve years older than I. My father was a steel mill worker by trade. As a kid, my first paid job was doing body work on corvettes. Once I graduated high school, I borrowed $9,500 and opened a music store in Murray, KY, that I operated for ten years before graduating college. I left that business to attend law school at the Salmon P. Chase College of Law. I was part of the Governor’s administration directly out of law school and later practiced in Covington, KY, as an Assistant Public Advocate in front of judges such as Greg Bartlett, Patsy Summe, Marty Sheehan, Fred Stine, and Karen Thomas. After my mother’s passing in 2011, my wife and I moved back home to Western Kentucky and started a family.
KAS Monthly: Who were or are some of your mentors as a young attorney and as a new judge?
Judge Jameson: I am privileged to say, as a young attorney, some of my mentors were great men and women that practiced with integrity and zealous advocacy. When I interned for the Kentucky Attorney General’s office in law school, Asst. Attorney General Ryan Halloran was my supervisor. He imparted many simple wisdoms on me I still pass down to young lawyers, such as, “never put anything in writing you wouldn’t want on the front page of a newspaper.” As for practicing attorneys that inspired me, there are too many to name. However, one that stands out is John Delaney. John was the directing attorney of the Covington office of the Dept. of Public Advocacy while I worked there. His passion for justice was infectious. Others that invested their time in me included great lawyers such as Bob Sanders of Covington, Randy Blankenship of Erlanger, Roger Braden of Taylor Mill, Will Zevely of Florence, and many, many more. As a new judge, Judge Craig Clymer volunteered to be my official “mentor” and a trusted resource. However, since my election, the person who stands out the most as stepping up to ensure my success as a young Judge is my predecessor, retired judge Dennis Foust. Within minutes of hearing the election results, I contacted Judge Foust. He asked me to meet him at 10:00 a.m. the next morning. From there, Judge Foust made himself fully available to me for months after the election. He even stepped in to cover for me when I was forced to take medical leave in February of last year.
KAS Monthly: How did your professional experiences prior to the bench prepare you to serve as a judge?
Judge Jameson: I would have to say that my time in Northern Kentucky did the most to form me as a lawyer and prepare me to be a judge. Practicing in front of great judges in Northern Kentucky that were under the burden of extreme case loads and pressure from all angles, taught me to do my best to be “judicial” no matter what is thrown my way. That is a very hard skill to master. To the extent I have developed that ability, I owe my success largely to those judges I practiced in front of early on, as well as many of the judges I practiced in front of in Western Kentucky.
KAS Monthly: How and why did you decide to run to serve as a circuit judge?
Judge Jameson: Just prior to becoming judge, I served as an Assistant Public Advocate in Marshall County, KY, my home area. Four years after moving back home, longtime circuit judge Dennis Foust announced his retirement, leaving an unexpired term. I left my position with DPA to run for the job. As for why I ran, I can only say that, after surviving stage IV head and neck cancer, I strongly felt that running for the position was part of my personal purpose. I had no idea if I would be successful in my bid for the seat, but I was compelled to run in spite of the terrifying reality that I may or may not be chosen to fill the position.
KAS Monthly: Describe your typical week as a circuit judge.
Judge Jameson: Of late, there is no “typical” week as a circuit judge. The weighted caseload in the 42nd Circuit has increased significantly. As of February, AOC released a report stating that my specific division is tied for the 8th heaviest weighted caseload in Kentucky. Like most judges across the Commonwealth, my time is largely spent doing my best to utilize limited resources to address a drug epidemic that has created a flooded judicial system. When I’m not struggling with finding answers to drug-related issues or doing day to day research and writing, I am working toward achieving large-scale goals. These goals include bringing an inpatient rehabilitation program to our circuit and integrating drug treatment into what we do as early as possible in the criminal judicial process. Last year, my office began hosting an annual Justice Conference for all attorneys, law enforcement, and others who work in the local justice system. It’s an 8-hour day of training, drug court graduation, and time spent building relationships. Thus far, the local circuit conference concept has worked very well. We even arranged for the attorneys that attend to receive 8 hours of CLE credit.
KAS Monthly: When you were first elected and sworn in as a circuit judge, what part of the job did you take to the easiest? What aspect of the job has been the hardest to adjust to?
Judge Jameson: While none of the job is easy, the handling of the dockets themselves and the law came the easiest, probably because I expected those tasks to be part of the job. I was not as prepared for the administrative duties. I simply did not understand the extent to which a judge’s attention is called to matters that are ancillary to handling the dockets, e.g., making sure mileage sheets are completed for staff, timesheets, etc. The most difficult thing to adjust to (and something I’m still adjusting to) is doing what I believe to be consistent with the law, and just, no matter how painful. Balancing the needs of the community I serve with the requirements placed on a judge is very challenging. It’s certainly a stressful job, but one I love.
KAS Monthly: Who are some of your closest friends on the bench and why? Do you believe it is important for circuit judges throughout the Commonwealth to communicate with and learn from one another? Can you give us a couple of examples of circumstances where a colleague on the bench gave you some good advice or guidance that served you well, either generally or in a particular case?
Judge Jameson: Although most judges do not get to spend much time together other than perhaps on the telephone from time to time, some of my most trusted colleagues on the bench currently include Campbell district judges Karen Thomas and Cameron Blau (as a result of my time in Northern Kentucky), circuit judge Tim Kaltenbach of Paducah, circuit judge Beth Maze of Mt. Sterling, and circuit judge Tim Stark of Mayfield. All of these judges have offered sound advice to me at one point or another. A specific instance comes to mind that involved Judge Karen Thomas. Judge Thomas, like myself, is a proactive leader in the sense that she is always looking for new ways to utilize her position to improve the judicial system and her community. To the best of my knowledge, Judge Thomas created the very first Mental Health Court in Kentucky; I served on the board that oversaw the operations of that specialty court when I worked in Northern Kentucky. Judge Thomas regularly offers sound advice on how to take an active role in community efforts to address the issues that plague the criminal justice system (addiction, mental health, etc.) without running afoul of the requirements of the judicial canons. She has been very helpful to me in preparing efforts to bring an inpatient drug rehabilitation program to the 42nd Circuit.
KAS Monthly: Some judges have told us that they struggle to interpret and apply new precedent from the appellate courts. Do you look to and consider what other trial judges do and how they rule on new and emerging issues and does that have any persuasive effect on you?
Judge Jameson: Kentucky law, particularly criminal law, has been changing very quickly since 2012. It is very difficult to stay up to speed on all of the pretrial changes, changes to probation and parole, and many other changes in various areas of the law. A public defender that practices in my court whom previously practiced in California expressed some frustration to me recently about not being able to find a firm answer to many legal issues in Kentucky. She shared that her experience in California was very different; essentially the answer was always there to find in California. I think it’s fair to say that in many, if not most of the decisions I author, I am having to decide some part of an issue that has not been specifically addressed by the appellate courts. When this occurs, I will often call other judges whose opinion I trust and ask their input. Beyond that, I rule based on what my experience has been with Kentucky appellate courts on a given issue unless there is a clear trend developing in a majority of other states across the country that I believe is consistent with how Kentucky courts are likely to view the issue. There are times you just have to make a call; there is no answer to be found.
KAS Monthly: Can you think of any cases where you’ve been asked to reconsider a prior ruling and you changed your mind? What is your thought process when you receive and consider a motion to reconsider or something of that nature?
Judge Jameson: On more thought-provoking legal issues, my staff and I try to do a large amount of work on the front end of an order. Thus, unless a party later points to something specific that was missed, I rarely change my rulings on those matters; again, only because we have done considerable work on the front end. However, I commonly find myself “leaning” one way or the other on motions after reading a file but then ruling completely the opposite after I have heard the arguments of the parties. Something that I did not appreciate before becoming a judge is just how little the judge knows about the cases before him or her from a factual or proof perspective in the early part of litigation. That’s why I believe it’s very important for parties to assume the judge knows nothing about the case. I ask the lawyers that practice in front of me, especially in civil cases, to step up to the podium, introduce themselves and whom they represent, then give me a run down of the factual situation at hand from their perspective. I find there are attorneys that fail to do this unless asked. Perhaps this occurs because the parties have worked the case so much they assume everyone knows it as well as they do. Or, perhaps, attempting to understand the judge’s perspective just doesn’t cross their minds, etc. Whatever the reason, in my opinion, the more you inform the judge regarding what’s in front of him or her, the better decision they can make for you, thus avoiding unnecessary reversals or other avoidable consequences that result in expanded litigation costs.
KAS Monthly: One of the chief complaints about the judicial system from attorneys and litigants alike is that it moves too slowly. What are some steps that you believe would help move cases along more quickly, and what sort of resources does the judiciary need to make that happen? What steps have you taken to efficiently manage your own docket?
Judge Jameson: While I am not a systems analyst, some common sense can’t hurt when it comes to assessing any problem. When I ran a retail business I had a sales manager for a large musical manufacturer give me some advice once. He told me, “always remember, that which is measured improves.” AOC does a good job of helping Judges track their caseloads. I read the caseload reports AOC sends out and attempt to make adjustments where possible. However, the number of criminal cases is skyrocketing for us, especially in Calloway County. Since becoming judge, I have doubled the number of criminal docket days per week in each county I cover, but we still often finish court well beyond the closing of the judicial building (sometimes 7 p.m.). That’s not normal for our jurisdiction. One of the major policy changes I’ve tried to impose is getting criminal defendants charged with only drug-use related felonies (possession, etc.) into treatment as soon as they enter the system, rather than waiting to send them as part of their sentence. I believe this has helped speed up the handling of those cases, and likely results in a better rate of success on initial probation (as opposed to them coming back within a month on a probation violation.). Lab processing is also a major issue for the criminal dockets. Any case that involves lab results can take several more months to make it through the courts. Improvement on lab turn around would significantly expedite our criminal dockets.
As for civil matters, mediation has changed the landscape; trials are fewer and fewer, and that is a good thing with respect to docket management. However, I’m not sure mediation has necessarily sped up the process overall. I find that some civil litigants are attempting mediation multiple times rather than simply having a trial. I also find that an initial trial date is almost never viewed by the parties to a civil action as an actual day to be ready for trial. The trial date drives discovery etc., but few civil cases go to trial when they are first set for trial. I am unsure if some of this is simply the result of new facts and evidence becoming available (Plaintiff has continuing medical treatment, etc.) or if some of it may be the parties trying to buy time for settlement, etc. In general, I believe there’s no doubt further steps could be taken to expedite civil litigation, but I offer no perfect answer. It would seem efforts would first need to be made toward discovering the actual reasons for the delays in specific types of actions. Then, perhaps, proposals could be made for improvements.
KAS Monthly: Discovery disputes are common in litigation. How do you approach those disputes as a trial judge?
Judge Jameson: Discovery disputes can be very frustrating. In my experience, this is where litigants implement “cat and mouse” techniques the most. While attorneys have a client to represent, they are also officers of the court. I believe it would be in everyone’s best interest for our lawyers to more freely give over information they know is clearly discoverable and provide more complete responses to interrogatories. If it is clear from a motion to compel that a party is playing “hide and seek” with discoverable information, I typically will order production within 10 days unless the circumstances dictate otherwise. I will also admonish the attorney for unnecessarily holding back information. At times, I have imposed evidentiary sanctions for such conduct where appropriate. Even if an attorney is unsure whether items or information in his client’s control are discoverable, instead of simply holding the item(s) back, the better and more fair practice would be to get the issue in front of the court as soon as possible once it is clear a resolution cannot be reached without court intervention.
KAS Monthly: We ask this question of every judge: what are your personal pet peeves in the courtroom? What should someone, whether they are a litigant, criminal defendant, or an attorney, absolutely never do in your courtroom?
Judge Jameson: Most of my “pet peeves” relate to how lawyers practice their case (not researching a legal issue thoroughly or filing memorandums or briefs that are less than informative). However, the biggest “pet peeve” I have relates to attorneys or defendants talking over the judge. I do my best to remain patient no matter what occurs, but someone talking over you when you’re trying to resolve legal matters can certainly be frustrating at times. Things go much smoother when those involved let everyone have their turn.
KAS Monthly: What are some of the more effective advocacy techniques you’ve seen in your courtroom? What works? What does not work?
Judge Jameson: Earning the trust of the judge is likely one of the most effective advocacy techniques I believe an attorney can utilize on behalf of his or her clients. I was telling an intern with my office just this morning: when you become a lawyer, practice in a way that makes the judge trust that you’ve done your work and that you’re not misleading the court in any way. I believe the most effective attorneys advocate zealously and are up to speed on the law relating to their case. They also inform the court accurately as to the law of the case even when it’s not in their favor. If you are forthcoming with the judge, he or she will be more likely to consider your arguments regarding why your facts are distinguishable from a case on point, etc. If you are honest with the judge and show them you know the law as it relates to your case, they are more likely to trust that your work is accurate now and in future litigation.
KAS Monthly: What do you look for in a good brief? What are the do’s and don’ts?
Judge Jameson: We’ve all heard professors remind us to K.I.S.S., “Keep It Simple Stupid!” Keep your briefs simple. Make sure you are able to clearly articulate what the issues at hand truly are, and that you have found the correct law that governs the issues. I have had attorneys for both sides of a matter argue inaccurate law regarding an issue with neither side catching the flaw, and sometimes with me not catching the flaw either. Your judge can’t know every aspect of the law. Be sure you take the time to find the controlling law for your specific issue(s). From there, edit your brief down to where it articulates the necessary information as succinctly as possible. To me, the key to a good brief, once you’ve found the law on point, is to say exactly what needs to be said and nothing more. A judge can lose you in the wilderness of an argument if you stray too far from the actual point they need to hear.
KAS Monthly: What has been your most memorable experience on the bench so far?
Judge Jameson: There have been so many memorable moments in the short time I’ve been on the job, both good and terrible. The one I’ll choose to share concerns a gentleman who had been in and out of the system his entire life. He came before me shortly after I took the bench. This gentleman was in his 50’s and had a long drug history; essentially his entire life had been controlled by addiction. I was familiar with him as I had represented him in the past and, in our small area, he was known in the court system. After arraigning him, I had a talk with him and simply asked him if he wasn’t sick and tired of being sick and tired yet. We had a short discussion about his life and I encouraged him to decide to start actually living a life instead of allowing his addiction to remove him from reality. I then, with his agreement, placed him in a new Intensive Outpatient Treatment program I helped develop while I was an attorney that had just begun taking clients. By the time his case was concluded, the gentleman was not only sober for the first time in his adult life, but he had begun mentoring others in his treatment program. I asked him at his sentencing what had changed. He stated, “You talked to me like a person, and I listened, and I decided I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Instances like this help make the strains of the job worth it.
KAS Monthly: Do you find oral arguments helpful? Have you ever been leaning one way after reviewing the briefs but shifted course after hearing a particularly persuasive (or disastrous) argument from counsel at a hearing?
Judge Jameson: I find oral argument very helpful if the attorneys are well-versed in the facts and the law of their case. I have often been leaning one way on a motion and then changed my mind after a hearing. But, of course, oral argument is only helpful if the attorneys are well prepared.”
KAS Monthly: What do you enjoy most about your job? Is there anything you do not enjoy or wish were different?
Judge Jameson: I very much enjoy the times when I get to feel like the efforts we make in our local justice system have made a difference, e.g., drug court graduation, when I hear a “thank you” from a defendant for sending them to treatment, etc. The part I wish were different is the lack of essential resources. Judges simply do not have enough resources to deal with what comes in front of them. Our judicial system was never intended to deal with the complex mental health and addiction related issues that dominate our criminal dockets today. Judges who dare to try and make a difference in spite of the shortage of resources struggle to find answers, especially in rural areas. It can be challenging to say the least. However, I try my best to stay committed to finding creative solutions to the matters that come before the court. When you are faced with a seemingly unsolvable problem such as the drug epidemic Kentucky is facing, your choices as a leader are to do something, or do nothing. For me and others like me, doing nothing isn’t an option.
KAS Monthly: Trial judges we have interviewed and interacted with reflect a full spectrum of attitudes about the role of appellate courts in our judicial system and reversal of lower court judgments by those courts. Have you ever been reversed on appeal and said to yourself “the appellate courts just got it wrong and I got it right”? Have you ever been reversed and said to yourself “I got it wrong and they got it right”? Tell us about what it’s like from a judge’s perspective to have an order or judgment reversed on appeal.
Judge Jameson: Given my short time on the bench, I have had a few finalized matters affirmed and a couple reversed. One of the reversals was absolutely appropriate. The parties in the action had simply argued incorrectly regarding the law. Both parties believed a particular statute applied, when it did not. The COA opinion held that, if the statute the parties debated had controlled the issue, my opinion would have been correct. However, the parties didn’t catch their error and I overlooked it. As for the second reversal, it involved a Fourth Amendment issue. I am not certain I agree with the conclusion reached, however, different judges see the details of many issues differently. In general, I believe appellate courts give considerable deference to trial courts in Kentucky, as they should. Reversals are going to occur no matter how hard you try to get it right because the law is not black and white. By definition, there is almost always room for interpretation in every legal scenario.
KAS Monthly: Finally, without mentioning or discussing specific cases, shed some light on the difficulties of presiding over a case in which there is unusually high interest from the public and the media. How do you as a trial judge balance the concerns and interest of the various actors under those circumstances?
Judge Jameson: These matters are always difficult when it comes to balancing all of the concerns involved. You have the action itself, which involves specific parties, but, you also have the media, the public etc. When the matter is a criminal action, the stakes are even higher due to the defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial and presumption of innocence. The best advice I can give is to follow what you believe to be the law and the rest will shake itself out. As Mark Twain said, “it’s never wrong to do the right thing.” If we assume, as I do, that following the law to the best of your ability as a judge is the “right thing,” making the best call you can based on what’s available to you at the time is never the wrong thing, no matter how painful it may be in the moment. As judges, we are not permitted the luxury of certain others. For the sake of the integrity of the justice system, we must do what the law requires of us and be fair to all concerned; then take our lumps, if necessary, and say nothing in return.
NOTE: This is the fifth in a recurring series of interviews with Kentucky judges. The editors of KAS Monthly thank Judge Jameson for his time in answering these questions.
[Photo Credit: Administrative Office of the Courts.]