3 seek Democratic nomination for Superior judge
Wednesday, April 30, 2014 11:00 AM
Three attorneys are contending to become the Democratic Party's nominee on the November ballot for Jefferson County Superior Court judge.
From top to bottom, Gray, Hensley and Stotts.
Mike Hensley, William A. "Bill" Gray and Mary Jean "Jeannie" Stotts each hopes to face off against Republican incumbent Alison Frazier who is unopposed in the May 6 primary election.
The Jefferson County Superior Court handles criminal cases, domestic relations and civil claims. It is a high-volume court. In 2013, there were more than 3,700 cases that were filed in the court. Since 2008 - the last year there was an election for Superior Court judge - there have been more than 26,700 cases filed.
Frazier was elected to the bench in 2008, and this is her first campaign for re-election.
Due to ethics guidelines for judicial candidates, there are some topics they are not allowed to discuss while campaigning. According to the Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct, candidates running for a judge's seat cannot "make any statement that would reasonably be expected to affect the outcome or impair the fairness of a matter pending or impending in any court" or "make pledges, promises, or commitments that are inconsistent with the impartial performance of the adjudicative duties of judicial office."
Mike Hensley made his first attempt at a seat on the bench in 2008 when he was the Democratic nominee for Superior Court judge.
He stopped campaigning after experiencing health issues, but lost by only 141 votes. Hensley said his health problems have been resolved, and he is ready to again seek the office.
"I felt like we needed a change," he said about entering the judicial race.
Hensley, 58, is a graduate of Madison Consolidated High School and received two degrees from Indiana University - a business finance degree and a law degree.
After graduation, he returned to Jefferson County, where he worked with his father, Joseph Hensley, an attorney and former judge. Hensley said his father played a big role in wanting to become a lawyer.
"It can be very stressful, but it's rewarding. You get to help people," he said.
He's been in practice for 34 years. He said he has handled numerous criminal cases, having worked as a public defender in Jefferson and Switzerland counties. He's also worked cases involving divorces, debtors and creditors and property law.
Hensley said his experience distinguishes him from his opponents.
"I think the biggest difference is the level of experience. I have quite a lot more experience than the other two," he said.
Hensley's motto is "swift and fair justice," which he sees as a major issue with how the court now operates.
"I feel like the cases are not going through the court in a timely fashion," he said.
He added that by providing quicker rulings, he would be able to move more cases through.
Hensley said he also wants to take a look at bringing back surety bonds, which would allow people to post 10 percent of a bond in order to bail someone out of jail. Quicker rulings coupled with the return of surety bonds would both help to relieve overcrowding at the Jefferson County Jail, he said.
Hensley said he hoped to build upon the success of the drug court system and expand or improve the program. While campaigning, the biggest complaint he hears is about the drug problem the community is facing. He said he hopes the drug court can provide a better opportunity for people addicted to drugs and help them get clean.
"It's a problem that the whole community has to solve," he said.
William A. Gray
When he ran for Jefferson County Circuit Court judge in 2012, the biggest issue William A. "Bill" Gray faced was name recognition.
Gray, 49, who lives in Canaan and works as a public defender in Clark and Floyd counties, was a virtual unknown when he entered the race.
But after actively campaigning and trying to get the word out about who he was and what he was about, Gray came 220 votes shy of winning the race. Now, he feels name recognition is coming to him easily and he's more well-known.
Working outside the county, Gray said, is what makes him the best candidate for the job. He said he feels he can make sure everyone is treated equally and is on equal standing in the judge's eyes.
"A lot of people are concerned with the way things are going in the community. They're concerned about power going into the hands of a few people," he said.
If elected, Gray said he would bring accountability and integrity to the bench, and he would help make sure everyone is viewed impartially.
"People have lost faith in the integrity of that court and they feel that people need to be held more accountable in their actions," he said.
Gray grew up in Jefferson County and graduated in 1982 from South Ripley High School. He attended Purdue University and after graduating in 1986, managed the Salem office of the Department of Agriculture.
That job involved going to Washington, D.C., to write appeals decisions for the Department of Agriculture. Gray was one of six people across the county to spend blocks of two weeks at a time writing appeals.
That's what got him interested in the law, he said. He decided to attend the University of Louisville to get a law degree. Since graduating in 2006, he's been practicing in New Albany and Jeffersonville.
While working there, four different judges have appointed him judge pro tem - to handle cases in the event the regular judge was not available.
"That shows they have trust in me. Trust that I'll do the right thing."
Gray said the biggest issue he's heard about for the community is drug abuse, and particularly heroin. He hopes to be able to provide a way to get fewer people in the community to be using drugs.
"If young people have no respect, then the problem is going to get out of hand, more so than before," Gray said.
This is the first time Mary Jean "Jeannie" Stotts has campaigned in Jefferson County, and it's different than what she expected.
She expected people to close the door in her face when she wanted to talk to them. Instead, they have been supportive of her efforts to get involved and run for office, she said.
"I am constantly surprised at how welcoming people are," she said.
Stotts, 45, has been a lawyer in Madison for 16 years, and she thinks she's more than ready to step up and become the next Superior Court judge.
"I have had a lot of people indicate they're ready for a fresh start," Stotts said.
"I think I would make a good judge because I think I can make a difference."
Stotts was born and raised in Jefferson County. She attended Lydia Middleton Elementary School and graduated from Southwestern High School. She stayed in the community and graduated from Hanover College in 1990. She took a few years off and worked before attending Ohio Northern University, where she earned a law degree.
Stotts says her courtroom experience is her biggest asset. For 16 years, she has been practicing in the Superior Court and has a good knowledge of the cases that pass through the court.
She also has a significant amount of jury trial experience, both in criminal and civil matters.
"I think it's important if a judge is sitting on a bench, they should have experience with how a trial works," she said.
During her time working in Superior Court, she's also developed a relationship with the court staff, the probation department and the prosecutor's office. Stotts is the defense counsel representative for the drug court, so she has a strong knowledge of how that court works as well, she said.
"I think that (knowledge) is crucial if change is going to be made," she said.
Stotts said she decided to become a lawyer because it fit well with her personality and she enjoys the interaction with clients.
"You do get a chance to help people every day. And that's a nice feeling," she said.
Despite the court being high-volume, Stotts believes she has plenty of experience to handle it. Her law firm is high-volume and has a case load she said will help prepare her for a large amount of work.
"I don't have that fear of being overwhelmed (by the caseload)," she said.William A. "Bill" Gray
Address: 8097 Hall's Ridge Road, Canaan
Contacts (phone, email): (812) 839-3605 (home), (502) 494-7386 (cell)
Education: South Ripley High School, Purdue University, 1986; University of Louisville law school, 2006
Current, past employment: Part-time public defender in Clark and Floyd counties, eight years; former manager of the Salem office of the Department of Agriculture, 16 years
Family members: Wife, Rita
Memberships: Indian-Kentuck Baptist Church, Canaan Masons 581
Address: 120 Cherry Trace, Madison
Contacts (phone, email): (812) 265-3616, firstname.lastname@example.org
Education: 1973 graduate of Madison Consolidated High School, B.S. in business finance from Indiana University Kelley School of Business, J.D. from Indiana University
Current, past employment: Lawyer at law firm currently known as Jenner, Pattison, Hensley and Wynn, 34 years
Family members: Wife, Kathy; son, Evan
Memberships: Board member of River Valley Financial Bank, member and past president of the Jefferson County Bar Association, member of the Knights of Columbus, member of Prince of Peace Catholic Church, member of the Elks Lodge, former board member of Friends of Pope John and Shawe, former chairman of the Madison Urban Enterprise Association, former member of Rotary Club.
Mary Jean "Jeannie" Stotts
Address: 413 E. Main St., Madison
Contacts (phone, email): email@example.com
Education: 1986 graduate of Southwestern High School, 1990 graduate of Hanover College, 1997 graduate of Ohio Northern University law school
Current, past employment: Lawyer at Joas & Stotts, 16 years
Family members: Mother, Marsha Wentworth Burton, father, Raymon Stotts
Memberships: Riverfront Development Board, defense counsel representative for the Drug Court, former member of Habitat for Humanity, former member of the Chamber of Commerce, former president of the United Way, former Democratic representative for the election board, former Democratic party treasurer.