Judge Rob Johnson
Candidate: Court of Appeals; District 5, Division 1
My name is Judge Rob Johnson and I am running to continue representing Central Kentucky on the Kentucky Court of Appeals. I have been proudly representing the people of Anderson, Bourbon, Boyle, Clark, Fayette, Franklin, Jessamine, Madison, Mercer, Scott, and Woodford county in that role since March 2017. Before that, I was a Circuit Judge for Bourbon, Scott, and Woodford counties for 12 years.
I am a graduate of UK Law and Georgetown College. I have lived in Kentucky for my entire life, been married to my wife, Rebecca, for 25 years, and we have five beautiful children together: Ben, Sam, Caleb, Hannah, and Beth—ranging in age from 20 to 9 years old. All attended or currently attend local public schools. I am active in my local church at Southland Christian – Georgetown.
I am the best choice for the Kentucky Court of Appeals because I have already been serving on the Court for nearly two years and have proven that I will issue timely, thoughtful, well-reasoned, and well-written opinions. I have had numerous cases published since joining the Court of Appeals, contributing to Kentucky’s jurisprudence.
Over my 12 years as Circuit Judge, I was never reversed, by final opinion, from any jury or bench trial. This includes cases from murder to rape to personal injury.
I revere the United States and Kentucky Constitutions and all those rights granted to all of us by these sacred documents. A judge should only interpret the law, not make the law and should seek only to implement the laws passed by our legislature, in accordance with the Kentucky and U.S. Constitutions.
My honesty, patience, demeanor, work ethic, legal knowledge, and love of the law make me the best-suited candidate for this job.
I assure every voter that I share their common Kentucky values, the belief in individual liberty, and that I will continue to keep an open mind and judge each case on its individual merits upon retaining my seat on the Court of Appeals.
I humbly ask for your vote on November 6th.
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. Over my 12 years as Circuit Judge and nearly 2 years on the Court of Appeals, I have always made it my duty to be well-prepared for each case and give each case and party who appear before me the time and attention they deserve.
I do not reach my legal conclusions lightly. When I make a decision, it is made after exercising extreme due diligence and legal research.
2. Give an example of a circumstance where you faced an ethical dilemma or problem and explain how you solved it.
The most common ethical dilemma that I faced as a Circuit Judge was when parties to a case or their associates attempted to contact me outside of the courtroom. In some cases, they were determined to make sure I knew the "true facts" of their case. I quickly cut them off and let them know I was not allowed to discuss any matters outside of the courtroom that were before me and then I notified the parties' attorneys of the attempted communication. If any of the parties had concerns, I would then address those in open court.
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?
First, my wife, Rebecca, and I have a large family of five children. From this, I have learned a great deal of patience! The patience I have learned as a father has helped me be more patient with difficult attorneys or parties that want to push the envelope a little too far or have a difficult time understanding the ramifications of their actions.
The eight years I practiced law, before becoming the youngest circuit judge in the state, taught me how important each case is to the parties that bring them. People do not generally run to the courtroom for every little issue they face in life. Litigants have generally felt very wronged (correctly or incorrectly) by the time they seek the advice of an attorney. At this point, they count on the court system to address their matters. I understand this as a judge and treat each case as an important one. Further, I try to allow the attorneys the opportunity to make their full argument.
Finally, I realize the anxiety that litigants feel when the case is submitted to the court for a decision and I always try to get my decisions out as quickly as possible while still making sure that every case receives the full amount of time and attention it deserves in order to ensure the end result is correct and comports with our laws and constitutions.
4. As a potential or sitting judge, what do you consider to be your greatest strengths? Weaknesses?
As stated above, my honesty, patience, demeanor, work ethic, legal knowledge, and love of the law make me the best-suited candidate to keep my seat on the Kentucky Court of Appeals. I treat every person who appears before me the same, and consider ensuring “equal justice under the law” to everyone perhaps my most important responsibility as a judge.
Since joining the Court of Appeals from the circuit bench, I have made a concentrated effort to carefully and painstakingly draft, proofread, and re-draft every Opinion I author until it is as close to perfect as I can get it. Since my earliest days on the circuit bench, I have taken my legal writing seriously, but improving it to the standard necessary for the appellate bench is something I have made a primary focus. Many of the Opinions I have authored have been subsequently published, becoming final, established law for our entire state and I take that responsibility solemnly.
5. What or who are the major influences in your life and why?
My mom, Willa, a guidance counselor for 40 years, taught me to work hard, but play a little. My dad, Gayle, an assistant superintendent, modeled community service. My grandfather, Andrew, a farmer and principal, demonstrated conservation of resources. My grandmother, Margaret, a teacher, instilled planning ahead and finishing my work.
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?
As a circuit judge, there was a case where a gentleman had been charged with a very serious offense but reached a plea agreement with the Commonwealth Attorney. When he appeared before me to officially enter his plea, one of my jobs was to ensure that the defendant was knowingly and voluntarily admitting to the crime for which he was being charged.
The gentleman said that he was innocent but was entering the guilty plea to end the legal process against him. It was obvious to me that the man genuinely contested his guilt and I told him and the prosecutor that I could not accept his guilty plea when he adamantly refuses to admit his guilt.
I passed the matter for a month to let the parties determine how they wished to next proceed. The Commonwealth Attorney conducted further investigation into the allegations, determined there was in fact insufficient evidence to charge the defendant, and requested the charge be dismissed.
This situation demonstrates my understanding of the importance of attention to detail and equal application of the law and I pledge to continue evincing those traits after retaining my seat on the Court of Appeals.
7. Who are your judicial role models and why?
The late Justice Antonin Scalia is my judicial role model because he was a textualist. To quote Justice Scalia, “The Constitution is not a living organism; it is a legal document. Persuade your fellow citizens it’s a good idea and pass a law. That’s what democracy is all about. It’s not about judges imposing demands on society.”
In accordance with the words of Scalia quoted above, it is my responsibility to interpret the Constitution as the framers intended. If rights can be adjudicated into the Constitution, then they can also be adjudicated out of it. Our God-given rights are precious and should be revered and protected by our courts.
8. Describe a circumstance where you took a difficult or controversial position and how you handled it.
There was a case while I was a circuit judge where a man driving drunk killed someone, pleaded guilty, but probation was left to me as judge. Other than this one single offense, the defendant had a completely clean criminal record. Over 80 people from his church came to my courtroom at his sentencing to support him and his request for probation. Many wrote very passionate letters in support of him as well. These people included some very prominent members of the community.
I listened to and read their words very carefully and sincerely but ultimately could not agree that it would be proper to grant probation in a situation where someone died as a result of the defendant’s admitted drunken driving and sentenced him to the five years he agreed to serve.
9. How would you describe your general judicial philosophy?
My general judicial philosophy is textualism and restraint. I am a strict constructionist.
It is the duty of a judge to interpret the Constitution as written and not infer rights into it. Judges should interpret the law according to the intent of the body that enacted it. The Constitution should only be changed by the amendment process and not by judicial decree.
As Justice Neal Gorsuch stated, "It is the role of judges to apply, not alter, the work of the people's representatives. A judge who likes every outcome he reaches is very likely a bad judge."
10. What are some of the most significant challenges facing Kentucky's judicial system and how do you propose to address them?
From what I have observed as a Kentucky judge the past 14 years, the greatest challenge within the legal community is ensuring people with low-income receive equal justice under the law.
People that are facing foreclosure, eviction, and family issues find it very difficult to get the help they need to make it through the legal process. There are some attorneys that work for agencies that try to assist low-income families. There are also pro bono programs in which attorneys donate their time to try to assist families in similar situations. The Kentucky Supreme Court has established a nonprofit agency, Access to Justice, that is working to make the court system more accessible to low-income individuals.
There are also statutes that allow for attorney fees to be awarded in order to protect an individual's rights. By awarding these fees when statutes allow for it, a judge encourages attorneys to be willing to take these types of cases.
I pledge to continue doing everything within my power as judge on the Kentucky Court of Appeals to ensure everyone has the opportunity to have their case heard in an impartial manner and be represented by a competent attorney fully-engaged in providing quality legal representation.