Sunday, October 24, 2004

Three-way race for judge divides county

Signs, T-shirts support campaigns of incumbent, district judge, lawyer

By Patrick Crowley
Enquirer staff writer

NEWPORT - Across Campbell County, it is not the races for statehouse, Congress or even president that are garnering the most attention.

Campbell Circuit Court Candidates

Judge Julie Reinhardt Ward, incumbent
Age: 34.
Residence: Alexandria.
Education: Chase Law School, graduated 1995.
Experience: Appointed judge in April.

Steve Franzen
Age: 48.
Residence: Fort Thomas.
Education: Chase Law School, graduated 1982.
Experience: Has worked as prosecutor, city attorney.

District Court Judge Greg Popovich
Age: 53.
Residence: Fort Thomas.
Education: Chase Law School, graduated 1983.
Experience: 11 years on district court bench.

Charles Lester
Age: 50.
Residence: Fort Thomas.
Education: Chase Law School, graduated 1980.
Experience: Fort Thomas Board of Education and Campbell County Property Value Administrator.

The heated contest for Campbell Circuit Court is the top political campaign from Newport to Grants Lick.

Drive down a major street, and you're near certain to see a sign from one of the three major candidates: Circuit Judge Julie Reinhardt Ward, District Court Judge Greg Popovich or lawyer Steve Franzen. In many places, the signs are posted in neighboring yards.

Go to a festival, ballgame, church social or senior citizen event and you're likely to run into the candidates' supporters, often clad in the colorful T-shirts of each camp - yellow for Ward, green for Popovich and the traditional red, white and blue for Franzen.

Mailboxes have filled with campaign ads. Literature has been dropped on front steps and stuck in doors. Candidates have visited hundreds of homes of likely voters.

There are battles over resumes, hints of cronyism and aggressive campaign tactics. All for a seat that rarely generates such political heat.

"It's great getting out and meeting the people," Franzen said. "But campaigning is about the hardest thing I've ever done."

Under Kentucky law, circuit court judges handle the big cases: felonies, major lawsuits over $4,000 and the high-profile trials that make the news.

For many lawyers, the judgeship is the crowning achievement of their career.

The politicking started earlier this year when veteran Campbell Circuit Judge William Wehr retired. When a judge steps down before the six-year term has ended, the governor appoints a replacement until the next election.

Maybe Campbell County lawyers and political watchers expected that Franzen, a lawyer with 22 years of varied experience, would get the appointment from Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

Franzen is a former prosecutor, one time clerk to the Kentucky Supreme Court and attorney for several cities and has a thriving private practice.

But Fletcher instead appointed Ward, making her the first female circuit court judge in Campbell County history.

Ward has far less experience than Franzen. Because her father is state Rep. Jon David Reinhardt of Campbell County, who like Fletcher is a Republican, her appointment fueled cries of nepotism and cronyism from Franzen's supporters.

But Ward said she is capable of doing the job and delights in being able to run as the incumbent.

"I am the circuit court judge right now," she said. "The governor's office was required to pick ... the person that they thought could fill this position the best.

"My dad didn't go to law school with me, he didn't graduate magna cum laude from NKU and he doesn't go into court with me on a regular basis."

Franzen said he still thinks that he is the most qualified for the office because of his experience and because he has handled major litigation in circuit court.

"This is the court where you have your most controversial cases," Franzen said. "It needs and demands the experience I can offer."

After Ward received the appointment, two more lawyers entered the race: Popovich and Charles Lester, a lawyer who does little campaigning. "It's important that you consider judicial experience," Popovich said earlier this month at a forum at NKU featuring the three candidates.

Popovich has run on a platform of handling more than 75,000 cases during his judicial career and has touted the endorsements from Campbell County police chiefs and police unions and school truancy officials group.


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