Friday, August 1, 2014

CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE: Courtney H. Mikesic, Wyandotte County Judge's Race

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Today, we hear from Courtney H. Mikesic. She is running for Wyandotte County District Judge. Earlier this week, we posted a questionnaire from Jim Yoakum, who is running for the same position. All candidates were given the same questions. I'm publishing them in the order I received them.

Thank you to the candidates who took their time to answer these questions!

1. Why are you running for judge?

I was born and raised in Wyandotte County and graduated from its local schools.  My family has deep roots in this community.  I am running for judge to fulfill a longtime quest as an attorney to give back to the community that has given me so much.  It has been a longtime career goal of mine to become a judge.

My family has a background of public service.  My grandparents, mother, aunt and uncle were all teachers and had a desire to serve others and improve the lives of others.  I see a parallel between being a teacher and being a judge.  I have a desire to serve the citizens of Wyandotte County, coupled with the education, demeanor, patience and work ethic to serve as a judge.

One important quality a judge should have is "humility."  I appreciate the fact my family taught me the value of humility, hard work and to never quit when things are difficult.  I will expect attorneys who appear in my court to be well prepared to present the issues in a case.  I will expect the same standard for myself.  I will be well prepared to listen to the facts, cut through the rhetoric and make a legally sound decision, based on the law and evidence presented.

Court records reflect that an increasing number of abuse against women and child abuse cases are being filed.  I believe a women judge will bring a different attitude and compassion to the courtroom.  This is not to say male judges are not compassionate, it is to say I believe an abused women is more likely to feel at ease upon entering a courtroom if she sees a women judge.  I would judge every case based on the law, but I feel I can also have concern for a victim.

I believe a good judge needs to be highly ethical and motivated to work hard.  A good judge also needs to be highly organized and not be beholding to other attorneys after being elected.  As I have an extensive legal practice in both Kansas and Missouri in over 60 counties, I have established a "no nonsense" but fair reputation among the judges and attorneys I regularly appear before in court. Having cases all over Kansas and Missouri requires a great deal of organization on a daily basis to make sure I am in court on time and well prepared.  I want to be a "no nonsense" judge.  I will be a judge that the citizens of Wyandotte County can proudly say they voted for and who have no regrets after this election.

I want to be a judge so I can follow in the footsteps of many fine judges that have served the people of Wyandotte County over the years.  Judges now retired, such as O.Q. C Laflin, Joe Swinehart, Dean Smith, Bill Cook, Cordell Meeks Sr. and Cordell Meeks Jr, Jim Lysaught (my former neighbor), and David Mikesic (my father).  These judges were hard working public servants that had a desire to serve and at the same time were ordinary citizens when they were not in the courthouse. They all served with honor and made Wyandotte a better place for all of us to live and I desire to do the same.

2. What are your qualifications for being a judge?

I am the only candidate licensed to practice law in both Kansas and Missouri.  I am admitted to practice before the Kansas Supreme Court, and both Kansas and Missouri U.S. District Courts.  I have represented both plaintiffs and defendants. Currently I am a managing attorney for the law firm of Kramer and Frank, P.C., and have litigated over 5,000 cases during my career.   I have also been awarded judgments and settlements for my clients amounting to several millions of dollars. I have extensive trial experience including bench and jury trials.  I am a former associate with Holbrook and Osborn, P.A., where I practiced in the areas of civil and corporate litigation specializing in insurance and medical malpractice defense litigation.

I began my legal career at the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office and have worked for the Kansas Supreme Court as a law clerk in the Office of Judicial Administration gaining a sense not only from various legal areas but from the judicial administrative process.  I have significant practical experience in all of these areas.  I have worked for the government, for a large firm and in a smaller firm practice.  These work environments have prepared me to understand the challenges facing attorneys who would practice in my court. My experience as an attorney encompasses criminal prosecution, civil litigation, business litigation, divorce cases, child in need of care cases, criminal misdemeanor, all levels of traffic offenses, DUI, government regulatory litigation, probate matters including wills and trusts and worker compensation law.

The varity of job settings and community involvement I have had in my life has given me a balanced perspective on the importance of everything life has to offer.  Family, spirituality, and serving others is important, just as vocation.

As a Wyandotte County Judge Pro Term I have experience on the bench listening to attorneys, quickly discerning what they are communicating, and interacting with them on all levels to weigh complex issues quickly and accurately.  I have proven that I am able to respond to situations with discretion, judgment and restraint under pressure.

My weekly court appearances in Wyandotte County would qualify me to step into Judge Boal’s position and immediately start presiding over pending matters. I am confident that I will work well with current court staff as I have currently worked with them on a professional level.

As a Managing Attorney with Kramer & Frank, PC., I have cases pending in 41 Kansas Counties and 20  Missouri Counties totaling approximately 2,000 open cases.  I understand the importance of moving cases effectively and concluding matters as quickly as possible without mistakes.  I will monitor cases that pass through my courtroom to ensure that all parties are treated with respect. I will work with my administrative assistant to ensure that stalemates and continuances should be limited to facilitate smooth and brisk movement of cases.  My work in the past has proven that I am able to handle large volumes and make decisions quickly and efficiently.

3.  To follow-up, whether it’s a particular case you tried or career achievement, what are you most proud of about your legal career so far?

I am most proud of the fact that I have been able to adjust and grow into my profession.  No attorney has an advantage before becoming a judge as all attorneys go through a learning process after being elected to a judgeship.

All cases are important to me as they are important to my client.  I feel there are no unimportant cases.  While some cases are more complex than others each case deserves my 100% attention to detail.  Some of the cases that I am most proud of are the pro-bono (free service) cases.  The law firm I am associated with is most generous in allowing me to handle pro-bono cases for persons that are not able to afford an attorney.  Many of these cases are in the area of child abuse or domestic violence against women.  Upon meeting my client they are usually scared with little understanding about the court procedure or what will happen.  The old saying “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” is certainly true. These clients are thankful that someone is willing to listen to their story and not pre-judge them.  So extending a hand to those in need is a legal achievement I am proud to perform.

I have been blessed with a caring family who taught me values such as humility, honesty, kindness, patience, compassion and a work ethic that we have a “duty to help others and we do this best by being a servant to our community.” I am proud of my past service to the community and I want to continue serving Wyandotte County as its next judge.

4.  What is your philosophy in rendering justice?

My philosophy of justice is “the Golden Rule,” that is, “treat others as I would like to be treated.” This philosophy is simple but true.  When parties come into court they are scared and unsure of what is going to happen. It is the judge’s duty to treat all parties with respect, understanding and patience.

There is a saying that “justice delayed is justice denied.”  This of course means the court should make every attempt to keep their assigned cases moving through the court docket. This requires that there should be no unnecessary delays in setting cases and entering decisions so the parties can move on with their lives.

I realize that most people are stressed when going to court.  Their only experience of entering the courthouse is to pay taxes or perhaps going to jury duty.  I believe that as a judge I need to take the time to listen to what the parties are saying and try to educate all persons whether a party to a lawsuit, a witness, or a spectator in the courtroom as to the function of the judge.

The judges in Wyandotte County do a good job of educating jurors about the court process in jury trials, but most cases heard in our County are hearings to the court and are not jury trials. Therefore the greatest number of cases where education is important will be in trials to the court.

It is said “that the wheels of justice grind slow, but they grind exceedingly well.” At times it may seem that nothing is happening on a case, but in fact, the case is moving along according to the time standards established by the Court.  There is much activity that the general public does not see, where the parties and their attorneys are discussing and trying to narrow the issues in a particular case so as to not prolong a case when the actual trial begins.

I believe justice is for everyone.  Every case is important.  I believe a protection from abuse case, child abuse case, or a speeding ticket, are just as important to the parties involved as the big national headline case.  Every case is important to the parties involved and deserves 100% of my attention and deliberation.

In addition to knowing the law it is important to have good “common sense” to apply the law.  A judge needs compassion and understanding and to those with power must come kindness.

5. With it being “budget season” in Wyandotte County: Do you feel that there’s room for improvement when it comes to efficiency of the court? If so, do you have ideas that would help make the court more efficient? 

District Court Judges are state employees and therefore paid from the state general fund.  The Unified Government (“UG”) pays for a minor portion of the court’s operation.  The U.G. is responsible to pay for utilities, provide the facilities and provide for the office supplies, so the court can operate. The U.G. does not pay the District Court Judges’ salaries, or the salaries of court personnel. Those are paid for by the State of Kansas thru the general fund, as funded by our Kansas Legislature.

The judicial budget consists of less than 0.9% of all funds approved by the legislature.  There is not much room to cut the budget as 96% of the judicial budget consists of salaries for its employees.  The only way to save money is to terminate employees, close courts early, raise court filing fees, or obtain more funding from the Kansas Legislature.  I do not favor cutting positions, raising filing fees or closing the courts early.  The only viable option is to seek more state funding.  Closing the courts statewide for one day saves $250,000. One furlough day equals 8 unfilled vacancies. Between 2010 and 2014 the Judicial Branch was the only branch of government that had reductions in the Base Budget Requests. There is not any “fat” in the State Judicial Budget any reductions will mean unfilled positions when they become vacant.

I believe there is always the ability for more efficiency in the courtroom. One benefit of electing a new younger judge is that the judge is not saddled with old ideas or the notion that “it has always been done this way and that is how I will do it.”  New judges bring fresh ideas. All 3 candidates possess the legal qualifications to become a judge. However, many times younger attorneys bring new ideas into a case that older attorneys have not thought of because an older attorney might be “set in his or her ways,” and resist change.  As an attorney who practices in over 60 counties across Kansas and Missouri I have seen what works really well in the courtroom and what works a little better.  I believe I can bring some fresh ideas from other areas across the state.

I believe more efficiency can be obtained by individual judges by coordinating with attorneys, litigants, and court staff to promote a better use of court time in the setting cases and making decisions without unnecessary delays.  Continuances should be granted by the court, but the court should not allow attorneys to abuse this practice as that affects the timing of hearings and makes for waste not only for the judge but also other attorneys who were not able to have their case heard because of prior case settings that are continued at the last minute.

I believe that Dispute Resolution and Judicial technology are two areas where the court can employ new efficiencies to enhance the courts operation.  I intend to keep up through education and interaction with other judges and professionals to stay on the cutting edge of improved court operations.

6. What sets you apart from your opponents in this race?  

I am the only women seeking election to the vacancy created by the upcoming retirement of Judge David Boal.  I believe I have had to work harder than my opponents to get to this level in my profession.  I believe I am the most experienced trial attorney in this judicial contest.  While my opponents have a majority of their experience in criminal defense work, I have experience in the criminal sector and I believe I am the most experienced civil law attorney.

It is well documented that women in the workplace are not treated the same as men.  There is truly a “glass ceiling”, that prohibits women from advancing to higher positions.  It is only through hard work by women and support from the community that women are beginning to advance and make our workforce diverse.  Women make up 50% of our population. There are 16 District Court Judges in Wyandotte County, only three (3) are women.  Electing a woman to the bench will help bring about equality and diversity to the bench.

Education is the best method to advance in the workplace.  This is especially true for women.  I have had to work hard to be successful through education. I have graduated with honors from Bishop Ward, KCKCC (Magna Cum Laude), and Long Island University (Summa Cum Laude).  I proudly state this on my campaign material.

I am the only candidate who has worked hard to become licensed in two states, Kansas and Missouri.  This has helped me become a well rounded attorney as I see the differences in not only the law but also the court procedures between the two states.  This will help me adopt the best ideas from both court systems to implement as my own plan. I also believe I am the only attorney who regularly practices law in over sixty (60) counties. I am in court daily and this gives me the advantage of constantly improving my efficiency and court practice.  I know what works and what does not work.

7.  If you are elected, what are your top three priorities?

My top three (3) priorities in life are my family, church and community.  However if elected as judge my judicial priorities would be first, to meet with staff and review all pending cases to prepare a plan to set cases for disposition.  I would prioritize cases from oldest to most current.  Contact parties on oldest cases and set a pre-trial/status conference to ascertain status of cases and determine if the case is ready for trial.  Based on the pre-trial/status conference I would set the case for final disposition. If a case is not ready for trial, place case on active trial docket and closely monitor case to make sure parties do not let the matter remain dormant. “Justice delayed is Justice denied.”

Second, I would meet with Court Administration, fellow Judges and the District Attorney to ascertain their “best practices” as to keeping case loads current.  I will not be afraid to ask for ideas from senior judges as to what works and what does not work.  As I regularly practice in over 60 counties across Kansas and Missouri, I have observed how the many different judges handle their dockets in the most efficient manner.

Third, during my campaign I have had the opportunity to visit all neighborhoods in our community. I will use these contacts to reach out to our community groups and see if I can attend their meetings and make myself available to listen to their concerns and any suggestions they have as to how the court process might be more “user” friendly to ordinary citizens.  Attorneys know how the court system functions but citizens that appear in court usually do not other then what has been relayed to them.  This information may, or may not, be accurate.

Education is important for the community. I will make it a personal goal to obtain as much judicial education as I can work into my schedule so that I will keep up-to-date with new trends in the legal profession.  Being a modern judge requires a judge to not only keep up with current law but strive to stay ahead of the curve in the field of education, technology, and personal growth.