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Candidate: Family Court;

Circuit 30; Division 4

Counties:  Jefferson

Official Website:

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Candidate Statement

Shelley Santry has 27 years of legal experience and is running for Jefferson County Family Court Judge, Division 4. She brings extensive knowledge and a passion for helping children and families to her campaign.


Currently, and for the past nine years, she has served as a full time Associate Professor and Founding Clinical Director at the award winning Ackerson Law Clinic at The Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville. Under her Direction, third year law students get to practice law under supervision pursuant to SCR 2.540. Santry and her students handle a variety of family court cases starting with domestic violence and interpersonal protective orders (IPO) hearings. The Ackerson Law Clinic then stays involved throughout the legal process and provides a continuum of care to low-income clients in need across our community. Recently, Santry started a similar mediation clinic utilizing certified student mediators and providing pro bono mediation services for low income pro se litigants referred directly by Jefferson County Family Court Judges.

As part of her job at UofL, She travels internationally twice a year to Belize and the Philippines with UofL students as part of the International Service Learning Program (ISLP). These law students teach high school students in these foreign countries about how to prevent bullying and intimate partner violence.


In addition, Santry is a Guardian ad litem (GAL) representing abused and neglected children in Jefferson County Family Court.


Prior to being a UofL Law Professor and GAL, Santry was an Assistant County Attorney prosecuting sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse cases for nine years.

Shelley started her legal career in Louisville as a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society (LAS) in the Family Law Unit for 9 years. For the last 4 of those years Santry served as the Associate Director of LAS.


Shelley Santry serves on the Board of Directors at The Center for Women & Families and the University of Louisville Athletic Association.


Santry has been endorsed by C*Fair (Fairness Campaign), FOP lodges #77 (Corrections), #25 (Sheriffs) and #32 (Probation & Parole, Police), IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) and Metro Louisville Women's Political Caucus (MLWPC).


Santry lives with her partner, and their blended family of five children ages 19, 19, 19, 16 & 15 years old, three cats, one dog, a lizard and a horse. Her 95 year old mother, Mayola lives at the Nazareth Home, and Shelley can still do a one and a half off the high dive at Lakeside Swim Club.


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 do sometimes wake with concern and worry about my clients who are predominately survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault or child abuse. I can only continue to do the best I can for my clients and continue to provide sound legal advice and safety planning.

2. Give an example of a circumstance where you faced an ethical dilemma or problem and explain how you solved it. 


Recently, I was representing a child on the DNA (Dependency, neglect & Abuse) docket and noticed that the natural mother was actually a former client and survivor who I had represented; because of the conflict of interest, I immediately informed the Judge and retained a substitute GAL (Guardian ad Litem) in my place.

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? 

I think Judges should be a "clean slate" when a case comes in the courtroom. ALL litigants should be treated the same way - with respect and dignity. The Judge should listen to the facts, apply the law and render a fair and just decision. My most relevant experience would have been as a prosecutor when you do have to look at all angles of a case and decide whether or not to go forward or what plea offer would be reasonable given all the circumstances.

4. As a potential or sitting judge, what do you consider to be your greatest strengths? Weaknesses? 

My strength is obviously my 27 years of experience which is varied and impressive focusing on families facing an array of legal issues. But I am mostly proud that my many years of experience have proven to be successful as documented by being voted "most qualified" candidate in my race by a recent LBA (Louisville Bar Association) survey of local attorneys with knowledge of all the candidates in my race. I have also received 6 of the 8 endorsements in my race. My weakness is probably that I take on too much and continue to juggle many tasks though I do seem to get it all done.

5. What or who are the major influences in your life and why?

My father who was a successful politician focusing on the needs of the most vulnerable and making public interest his top priority. My mom, who continues to amaze me at 95, completely concentrated her life on the needs of her children. I hope that as a public servant and a mom, I have the perfect combination of both of them.

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?

I recently observed a transgender individual being made fun of by court personnel and I stepped in. I will continue to provide a safe environment for ALL individuals.

7. Who are your judicial role models and why?

Justice Denise Clayton has mastered the goal of combining intelligence, empathy and fairness sprinkled with a good dose of appropriate levity and humor - my definition of a perfect Judge.

8. Describe a circumstance where you took a difficult or controversial position and how you handled it. 

I recently filed an appeal on behalf of a mother with a mental illness who had her parental rights terminated. I argued that because of her diagnoses, it was imperative to provide her with proper medications as required by the reasonable effort requirement. Without providing the necessary medication, how could we expect her to be fight through her mental illness and become a better parent.

9. How would you describe your general judicial philosophy? 


I think Judges should be a "clean slate" when a case comes in the courtroom. ALL litigants should be treated the same with respect and dignity. The Judge should listen to the facts, apply the law and render a fair and just decision.

10. What are some of the most significant challenges facing Kentucky's judicial system and how do you propose to address them? 


Efficiency is our biggest problem. We have 1,000s of cases coming through Family Court with very serious, pressing and sensitive matters. We have history of having cases come in at once with a great deal of waiting involved. We need to stagger our dockets throughout the entire day, offer a docket one night a week and find a way to offer quicker and cheaper mediation services for ALL litigants.


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