By Patrick Crowley
Enquirer staff writer
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS - Campbell Circuit Judge candidates used a Northern Kentucky University forum Monday to tout and debate their experience and qualifications.
But the candidates - two judges and a lawyer - also took the opportunity to lob overt criticism in what has become one of the region's most contentious political races.
Three of the four candidates appeared Monday at the forum.
Lawyer Steve Franzen of Fort Thomas told the gathering of mostly students that he has the most experience through his years as a prosecutor, public defender, city attorney and staff lawyer for the Kentucky Supreme Court.
District Judge Greg Popovich, also of Fort Thomas, said he is the most qualified because of the nearly 11 years he has spent on the District Court bench.
Circuit Judge Julie Reinhardt Ward of Alexandria repeatedly made the point that she has been the incumbent since May, when Gov. Ernie Fletcher appointed her to the seat.
Lawyer Charles Lester of Fort Thomas was unable to attend, organizers said.
At times during the nearly 90-minute forum, the candidates questioned one another's credentials and campaign styles.
Popovich said the other candidates were trying to "bury him with signs," a reference to the campaign signs Reinhardt Ward and Franzen have posted around the county.
"Please don't make this a popularity contest," Popovich said.
Reinhardt Ward was criticized because of her short time on the bench. There were also suggestions that she was appointed to the seat through political connections.
Her father, Jon David Reinhardt, is a state legislator and, like Fletcher, a Republican.
"Since Judge Ward has been on the bench, she has handled absolutely zero jury trials," Franzen said.
Reinhardt Ward said the governor deemed her the most qualified by choosing her for the seat over Franzen, who also sought the gubernatorial appointment.
Franzen took issue with Popovich's claim about the number of cases he handled, saying the 75,000 cases claimed over 11 years averages out to 50 to 100 cases a day.
With such a caseload, Popovich hasn't had the experience to handle the more complex cases that come through Circuit Court, Franzen said.
Popovich defended himself by saying he has handled dozens of trials over the years, and the rules of law and evidence do not differ between the two courts.
Reinhart Ward and Popovich said Franzen wasn't following the code of ethics for judicial races by promising in his campaign literature to have "zero tolerance" for frivolous lawsuits.
Franzen denied the claim was unethical.
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