Catherine Stafford grew up in Bloomington and has been involved most of her life in political causes, from working with the local League of Women Voters as a young adult to volunteering with recent local judicial campaigns.
However, Stafford said she never seriously considered running for office herself until recently.
“It’s putting yourself out there and answering questions in a much different way,” Stafford said.
But this year, the time seemed right, and she has filed as a judicial candidate running for Seat 3.
Three judicial seats -- Seat 2, Seat 3 and Seat 8 -- in Monroe County are up for grabs in the midterm election Nov. 6.
Seven Democrats have announced intentions to run in the primary. Two are running for Seat 2, three are running for Seat 8, and one other candidate, Jeff Kehr, plans to run against Stafford in the primary for the Seat 3.
The primary on May 8 will narrow the field to one Democrat per seat. No Republicans have announced plans to run for a judicial seat, and if none do, whichever of the Democrats wins each primary will also win the general election by default.
Stafford currently works at her own private law practice, and handles mostly family law cases.
Recently, she said she has been doing more “neutral” work in her practice. This includes acting as a mediator in family cases and as a Guardian ad Litem, a court-appointed person who looks out for the interests of a child in a divorce or custody case.
She said this kind of work has been satisfying, and she wanted to figure out how to incorporate more neutral work into her life. Becoming a judge seemed like the answer.
“To be a judge is to be the ultimate neutral,” she said. “You listen carefully to both sides.”
Should she win the election, Stafford said one of her one goals would be to make the document writing and filing systems as efficient as possible. She said this is especially important now because the local courts have gone paperless at a time when the number of cases appearing before the court is also increasing.
She said her office has been paperless since 2012, and she has ideas for how to help the court with this transition.
“The case load is huge,” Stafford said. “We need to be as efficient as possible.”
Another goal for Stafford would be coordinating with a local nonprofit, District 10 Pro Bono Project, to create a law clinic to advise and mediate divorce and family law cases. District 10 Pro Bono Project currently works to provide legal services people who otherwise couldn't afford any.
Creating a family law clinic could cut down on the number of days people spend in court, which Stafford said is especially helpful for people who have a hard time getting off work for court dates or finding transportation.
Stafford volunteers with the District 10 Pro Bono Project and said in preliminary conversations, organizers seemed interested in this collaboration.
In addition to volunteering there, Stafford also volunteers as an attorney for child advocates who work through the Court Appointed Special Advocates program. She has also volunteered to offer legal advice at clinics for local undocumented people.
Stafford said she knows nobody ever wants to end up in court and has no illusions about changing that if she were elected, but wants to make people’s experiences in her courtroom as efficient, fair and transparent as possible.
“I hope they would have the feeling that they were heard, they had a fair process and they had a well-reasoned decision,” she said.
To read about the other candidates, see our Monroe County judicial election page here.
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