MURRAY – With the retirement of Rob Mattingly as Kentucky 42nd Judicial Circuit family court judge in Calloway and Marshall counties in the fall, it means an election will be necessary to fill that position this year.
Murray attorney Stephanie Perlow is one of three people who filed paperwork as candidates to run for that position and she said she believes she has the proper amount of experience to go from her attorney’s role to that of presiding over a part of the Kentucky court system that is rather unknown to most of the general public. She has been the attorney for right at 2,000 cases in her career that is entering its 12th year, with about half coming in Calloway and half in Marshall.
She also believes she has the right mindset.
“This job is all about helping the children,” said Perlow, who is facing a pair of attorneys from Marshall County, Ryan Yates and Catherine Fuller. “You know, what the law makes (a judge) do, and it doesn’t matter what type case – divorce cases, custody cases, grandparent visitation cases? You are supposed to look at the best interest of the child standards. In every court, you have certain standards that allow you to find what you find, like in criminal court, it’s all about reasonable doubt. Here, it’s best interest in child standards because, here, (the judge) is the trier of fact. There is no jury.
“I really enjoy the human aspect of it, which, interestingly, is also what turns a lot of people away from it. I pride myself on looking at both sides of the story, but, ultimately, I, if I am elected, would have to look out for the child's best interest. That is still something that is written all over family court statutes. This is important. Every judge’s position is important, but this is something that touches so many people. Probably every third person knows someone that has been through a divorce or a child custody case.”
Perlow said she believes she has a couple of advantages in this race. First, is her upbringing; she was born in southern California and lived there until just before her middle school years, when her family moved to Kentucky, settling in Elizabethtown. She said that gave her an immediate education on how cultures are sharply different from one part of the nation to another and this allowed her to learn the concept of seeing “both sides of the story.”
The other is her time spent with Mattingly as what is known as a guardian ad litem, which is an officer appointed to investigate solutions to yield the aforementioned “best interest of the child.” Perlow, who attended Murray State University and has lived in Murray since returning from earning her law degree at Western Michigan University, has served that role since becoming a licensed attorney in 2008 with her entire career having been served in the family court arena, nearly all of it spent with cases in the 42nd Circuit.
She said she took notes as to how Mattingly, who served in that role since 2006 before becoming the city attorney in his home area of Benton, made his rulings.
“I would always treat my cases by determining how the judge is going to rule on it,” she said, explaining that, most times, her guess on how Mattingly would rule was correct. “So when I sit down with my clients (which has included as many men as women), that’s something I try to tell them when it comes to why I’m setting up the case the way I do. Maybe that’s why I’ve been successful, but I’d tell my clients, ‘All right, here’s what we need to say and here’s what we need to point out that they’re doing right or wrong … because he’s going to look at it like a list and he’s going to create columns and visualize it and that’s how he’s going to rule who’s going to have the children more.’
“I feel that I’ve been looking at every case back and forth every time I take a case. That’s what I do now and that’s what I’ll be doing (on the bench).”
Perlow said she believes people know her as much in Marshall County as they do in Calloway, but that is not going to stop her from campaigning hard in both areas. She said she is going to knock on a lot of residents’ doors in both places, as well as attend as many public events as possible between now and the primary. One thing that will be at the top of her priorities is educating voters, she said.
“For one thing, this is a nonpartisan race, and that means any registered voter can vote on May 19,” she said. “Also, anybody with eight years of practicing this kind of law can apply for this position.
“I know that some people believe that it’s a little weird that this job is elected. A lot of people tell me, ‘Well, you’d think they’d have a system set up where the attorneys choose the person because they’ve practiced with them and because they’d know who’s more qualified. Well, I think the voters know who’s more qualified. They know who’s had more cases. Go look at everybody’s statistics. I have the most cases in Calloway and Marshall among people who have practiced these types of cases.”
Perlow also said that if elected, she would be a strong advocate of making adoption a much more prevalent part of the docket, which is another area she plans to discuss with voters, and it surrounds a new law passed last year by the Kentucky General Assembly.
“Kentucky had a 20-day waiting period. We have just changed it to 72 hours, which is what most states have (a law that went into effect in September, just as Mattingly was concluding his tenure). One of my big goals is to make it more efficient,” she said, adding that she would go so far as to host conferences on this subject. “There is no reason why (if elected) I can’t make room on a docket for these types of hearings. Adoption is such a big part of our world now. It’s one of the happier days in family court when those happen and it’s hard to have happy days in family court.”
“These hearings take only 10 minutes, so you should be in my court within 72 hours adopting that child. Let’s move on. We don’t need to clog dockets up with other things when this is what needs to be done. We can slip an adoption into the docket real quick.
“Also, a lot of people don’t know that you can adopt through the foster system. I have so many people come up to me and ask, ‘Tell me about this foster process,’ because people think of the foster process and don’t think of it as presenting a chance for adoption. They don’t know how it works.”