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District 53 Judge's race: Challenger Smith takes aim at Dutton

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By Lisa King

 The duel for the 53rd Judicial District’s Division II seat is pitting two Shelby Countians who know each other well.

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But incumbent Donna Dutton and attorney Darby Smith also see the race a bit differently. They met in the primary for this job in 2006, when Smith finished third in a close race. Dutton was second to David Nutgrass but rallied to overtake him in the General Election. Smith, a Shelby County native who has been practicing law for 13 years in private practice in Shelbyville and in Lawrenceburg since 2008, has taken dead aim on ousting Dutton, suggesting frequently that he would take a tougher stance on crime, especially repeat offenders and DUIs involving drugs. “I will definitely take a tougher stance on DUIs involving drugs than does my opponent,” he said, adding that he believes Dutton takes a more lenient approach to some statutes than he would. Dutton said in response that she wants to keep the campaign going on a positive note. “With this election, I would like to run a positive campaign because I believe our conduct as candidates is indicative of our conduct as a judge,” she said.  Smith said he thinks fairness and consistency are the relevant issues in this election.  “A judge needs to be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers and others whom he or she deals with in their professional capacity,” he said. Dutton, who is campaigning for a second term on the bench, cites 19 years of experience practicing at all levels of the court system from District Court, Circuit Court, Kentucky Court of Appeals, Kentucky Supreme Court, and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, and she said that experience has prepared her to handle the diverse cases. “I have the proven experience and proven commitment to handle the approximately thirteen thousand cases that my counterpart, Judge Linda Armstrong, and I handle in district court each year,” she said.  She cites her motto as being tough when necessary but always fair. And she said that she feels the top issue in the judges’ race is budget-related. “I believe the top issue facing the 53rd Judicial District as well as the entire Judicial Branch of state government is the budget reduction,” she said. “Our budget for the 2011-2012 biennium is several million dollars less than the already reduced budget of the last biennium. “It will take a concerted effort by all Judicial Branch employees to protect the important services we provide with a significantly reduced budget. I will continue to do my part to ensure that District Court runs efficiently and smoothly despite these budget cuts. “ She also said she is concerned about the issues of repeat offenders and doing what she can to prevent juveniles from becoming part of the adult criminal docket. “If the juvenile has a drug or alcohol problem, I make sure they receive treatment,” she said. “If they are not in school, I make sure that before they leave juvenile court they are back in school or on the road to obtaining their GED.” Smith said that no matter what the outcome of the election is, he will be satisfied with having done his best. “I can live with defeat, but not with regret,” he said, “because this time, win or lose, I know I have campaigned well.”