Karen Faulkner is an attorney located in Louisville, Kentucky, and has been practicing for over thirteen years. Prior to being licensed as an attorney, Karen worked as a victim’s advocate for the Center for Women and Families and practiced with her limited license in the Commonwealth Attorney’s office. She became a Public Defender in 2005 after being licensed to practice law in Kentucky. As a Public Defender she practiced in the Juvenile Division for over three years, representing juveniles in both criminal and family court and connecting them to necessary treatment within the community. Karen also was a part of the pilot Restorative Justice program in juvenile court and continues to support it today. She spent the remainder of her five years as a Public Defender in the Adult Division, and has handled cases from the misdemeanor level up to Class A felonies. In private practice she continues to work with both juveniles and adults in the criminal field. Karen is also a court-appointed Parent’s Attorney in Family Court Division Nine and continues to serve as conflict counsel for the Department of Public Advocacy following her commitment to public service. In 2008, she received the Excellence in Advocacy Award by the Department of Public Advocacy, and once in private practice was voted a “Top Lawyer” in Louisville Magazine by her peers for five consecutive years.
In addition to her work as an attorney, Karen taught Trial Practice as an adjunct professor at the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law in 2013 and 2015, and has appeared as a guest lecturer at the University of Louisville, the Legal Aid Society, Ivy Tech Community College, and Brown Mackie College. Karen serves on the Board of the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Brandeis School of Law Alumni Board. She and her husband Bill enjoy living in the Clifton area of Louisville with their very energetic toddler, Liam, who brings her joy and perspective daily. Karen Faulkner is running for District Court Judge in 2018 to continue her service to the people of Jefferson County.
Karen’s focus on public service has taught her that when you look the circumstances surrounding the person who commits a crime, it is often based on some other cause. In District Court the three main causes are mental illness, drug addiction, and poverty. Karen believes that focusing on these underlying issues will be important in addressing these issues within our community. She plans to work with the current programs already within our system and push for their expansion when she takes the bench. She will be engaged both within the Court she sits and the community she serves. It is with these efforts to create more of village and community that Louisville will thrive. We must punish when necessary and look for alternatives when appropriate and continue to evolve our thinking to find solutions to crime and violence that plagues Jefferson County. Karen will use her education, her experience, and her innovations to work to make District Court better. Karen Faulkner promises to be available to the attorneys in her court system and the people she serves and will work hard for you as your next District 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.
As attorneys, we are involved in the practice of law, which means every choice you make is a judgement call on what is best for the case and best for the client; we are also humans and have a degree of human error as well as the finesse only accomplished by applying compassion built into our practice. There have often times where, even if I have won a case, I have thought of things that could have been done differently or better. I always try to remember that I am doing the very best I can for every client, despite barriers placed by the legal system. I combat this by continuously improving my education in the areas I practice in. I don't just do the minimum CLE requirements but take every opportunity to learn and grow. I also seek the advice of those experienced in the field and ask for critique from the judiciary, jurors who sit on my trials, and fellow attorneys in the legal system. To accept that I am not perfect, to be humble, and to always seek improvement is the way I seek to be the best for my clients and for this community when I take the bench.
2. Give an example of a circumstance where you faced an ethical dilemma or problem and explain how you solved it.
I have been faced with ethical dilemmas with clients and with other attorneys. If it is with another attorney, I discuss it with them, and if it is a violation of the ethical rules, I report it as required under the rules. On a few occasions I have been faced with an untruthful client. This is one of the most difficult ethical quandaries for an attorney as the duty to always protect and serve the client comes into conflict with the ethical rules we are required to follow. In this situation, I have been forced to remove myself from the case in order to protect both of those duties.
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 qualities in a judge are knowledge of the law, a passion to serve the community, and an understanding and compassion of human nature. In order to treat everyone fairly, you must come to the table with a belief that everyone is created equal but does not have equal opportunities. I have honed my knowledge of the law both in my education in law school and continuing legal education (CLE) and with my hands on experience as an attorney. I have worked as a public defender and still continue to do so as a conflict attorney in private practice, and as a court-appointed parent's attorney, while also running my private practice. I did not grow up in privilege and neither of my parents have college degrees. I understand what it is like to struggle at times in your life from both a personal level and from walking hand in hand with clients as we worked together to help them be better off than when we came to meet. Because of my court-appointed work, I spend a lot of time assisting people to obtain services in the community or find jobs to get on their feet. I have worked hard for everything that I have but also know that I have had opportunities that not everyone gets and a support system that not everyone is able to rely on, and I want to help people build that support system in the community. I have not struggled with drug addiction or mental illness but have had friends, colleagues, and clients that have and having a court system ready to provide assistance and treatment is crucial to the success of our community. I have worked my entire career learning, working, and improving both my knowledge of the law, but also my knowledge and understanding of different communities, cultures, and beliefs of citizens of Jefferson County and will put this experience to work as your next District Court Judge.
4. As a potential or sitting judge, what do you consider to be your greatest strengths? Weaknesses?
My greatest strengths are my education and life experiences, both personal and professional. Because I have worked in every area of District Court, I know the system well, what is available currently and what I would like to seek improvement on. I give 100% of myself to everything I commit myself to, which is what has carried me to where I am today. I will continue to give myself to this community once I take the bench and seek to apply my strengths to my docket and the specialty courts and programs (Drug Court, Mental Health Treatment Court, Veterans Treatment Court, and Restorative Justice) available in the District Court. I humbly accept that I do not know everything there is to know about our community and the criminal justice system, and would work hard to consult with leaders in the community, pastors, law enforcement, corrections, social services, and others that I have built relationships with in my career and will continue to build relationships with to continue to learn and grow to help our community and our District Court system.
5. What or who are the major influences in your life and why?
My parents have taught me the importance of education and hard work and service to our community, they have influenced me to be tough and caring and to always give of myself. My family has taught me the strength of community and support. My work as a public defender has taught me to try and walk in someone else's shoes and look through someone else's eyes; my work advocating for victims has done the same. My child has taught me more about love than I could have ever imagined. My husband has taught me to look outside of myself for strength. My career has taught me success only comes with failures and a constant desire to do better and be better. Everything I have done in life has influenced me to be standing before you asking for your vote and to serve this community with a passion to make it a better place.
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?
"If I were to remain silent, I would be guilty of complicity." Albert Einstein. I see injustices in our court system and in our community daily. I believe that it is important to stand up for what you believe in, and passionately stand up for equal rights for all citizens in our community. I have responded inside the courtroom by advocating for the rights of all of my clients, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic background, by asking tough and sometimes unpopular questions, and my pointing out inequalities in my arguments to the prosecutor or the Judge. Outside of the courtroom I use my voice, my education and my privilege in the community to stand up for what is right, whether that be through service on a board, by educating people when I am invited to speak in the community, or simply saying "this is not right" when faced with an injustice. As a judge, I will continue to do the same thing. Judge's are gatekeepers and have the opportunity to apply the law correctly and fairly. They have an opportunity to reject an offer, or set a bond, or waive a fine, or dismiss a charge if justice calls for it. As a judge I will continue to ask questions and keep a watchful eye on justice and equality in our legal system.
7. Who are your judicial role models and why?
I have learned from many Judges in my career and can name many that have personally touched me and influenced me to be a better attorney and a strong Judge when I take the bench as well as those I have admired from afar. I practiced in front of the Honorable Stephen George as a public defender, as a parents attorney and in private practice. His thoughtfulness, dedication, and passion for the cases in front of him and treatment of the litigants and people in his courtroom earned my respect and that of my colleagues. The Honorable Stephanie Pierce Burke has shown me the importance of treatment in our community and her service with the Drug Court Program in District Court is invaluable; she exemplifies what passion for the individual can accomplish. The Honorable McKay Chauvin is innovative in the way he handles probationers in his courtroom, holding them accountable with an additional check in, and a support system provided by his circuit Court room. The Honorable Bryan Edwards, who has been my professor, my friend, and judge to learn from, providing both compassion and mercy as well as toughness and punishment when necessary. The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsberg who has served as a pioneer for women on the bench and for equality in the court system. I will continue to learn from the Judges on the bench once I join them as a colleague.
8. Describe a circumstance where you took a difficult or controversial position and how you handled it.
I have had to take many controversial positions as a defense attorney. One such position includes challenging the closed courts in family court when sunlight is the best disinfectant. I handled how I must as an advocate, as I do in any difficult situation, but doing what is best for my client. I filed the motion and notified the media of the issue at hand. It is important for everyone to know what is happening in the Court system, particularly if there is an injustice. Challenging the injustice head on is what I did in that situation, what I do every day, and what I will continue to do on the bench.
9. How would you describe your general judicial philosophy?
My general philosophy is to use the tools of the Court system to leave people better than when they came. I want to begin looking at why people are in Court and trying to get them the services they need. I want to support the specialty courts such as drug court, veterans court, and mental health court. I also believe we need to stop using out jails as detox facilities and mental health holding cells, and it is through educating the public about the laws that are available to them, such as Casey's Law to seek treatment for the addicted and Tim's law to seek outpatient support for the mentally ill, that we make our community a better place. We have to stop creating a debtor's prison and relieve people of the fines and costs that they cannot afford and look at alternative sentencing models when appropriate. We also must protect our citizens from the violent crime in our community and reserve our jails to house those that are truly a threat to our citizens. It is through community partnership that we can achieve a better community and better use of our judicial tools.
10. What are some of the most significant challenges facing Kentucky's judicial system and how do you propose to address them?
The most significant challenges in our judicial system is the over-incarceration of the poor, the mentally ill, and the drug addicted as well as the unequal treatment throughout the system. I plan to work with community leaders, my colleagues on the bench, and the citizens of this community to cull resources available in an effort to educate myself and the lives that I touch. I believe we must address the root issues and not simply the symptoms of the problem I propose we expand the restorative justice model into our adult court system and would support those efforts on the bench. I will set reasonable bonds for low level offenders who should not be held in custody and/or educate the resources available to them whether it be through court or in our community. As a mother, I often say "it takes a village" when relying on my fellow parents, teachers and friends with the guidance and raising of my child. The same goes for our community. We must work together to make change and listen to all voices, the police, the victims, and the accused, as well as those in the community. It is through this collective voice that we can move forward.