Family Court goes to Dalton in Pulaski, but Venters overall

Caleb Lowndes | CJ

Jane Venters (center) poses with her husband Dan Venters (right) and Laurie Hines (left) for a photo after winning the family court judge seat against Melinda Dalton.

The first-ever 28th Judicial Circuit, Division 4 judge will be Jane Adams Venters.

Venters survived a hard-fought race for the newly-created Family Court judgeship serving Pulaski, Lincoln and Rockcastle Counties, overcoming fellow Somerset attorneys Melinda Gillum Dalton and Keith McLamb.

The results, however, were all over the place.

Dalton actually won here in Pulaski County. She received 8,343 votes, or 44.66 percent of the vote. It was a tight race here with Venters throughout the evening, but Venters finished with 7,534 votes here, or 40.33 percent. McLamb was much further behind, at only 15.01 percent (2,805 votes).

Yet Venters won the other two counties -- and in Lincoln, McLamb came in second, with 1989 votes, over Dalton's 1,924. Venters had 2,434 votes there. In Rockcastle County, Venters earned 2,205 votes, against Dalton's 1,141 and McLamb's 991.

In other words, this race was anything but a given.

"I am," said Venters when asked if she was glad for it to be over with. "I had a lot of new experiences and meeting people and hearing their concerns about Family Court."

Which concern did she hear the loudest? "Without a doubt, the need for stability for kids that are not with their parents."

Added Venters, "It was a very competitive race and all the candidates worked hard. I'm pleased to have come out on top and I look forward to working hard for the families of Pulaski, Lincoln and Rockcastle Counties."

This past spring, legislators approved a new bench for the 28th Judicial Circuit, which currently has three judges. Jeffrey Burdette and David Tapp handling traditional criminal and civil cases while Marcus Vanover presides over the family docket. Vanover was reportedly handling a caseload equivalent to what two and a half judges might be expected to handle.

Venters said she would like to start a veterans' treatment court and work with schools and other agencies to develop programs to benefit kids at risk.

As for what she thinks helped her win, "I think it would be my over 30 years of practice in the family law area and my message during the campaign." She thinks that Lincoln and Rockcastle voters responded strongly to that message, she said.

The Commonwealth Journal was not able to speak with McLamb as of presstime, but did get a response from Dalton, who sounded shaken on the phone following the election results.

"I'm very proud of the campaign that we ran. I'm very proud that we won Pulaski County," said Dalton. "I appreciate everyone who worked so hard for us, and I'm going to come to work tomorrow and work for the families in our community."

Dalton, who like Venters has name recognition locally and a substantial history of working within the area of family law, said she thinks she took Pulaski because it "is our home county and we were most known."

Overall, Venters had 12,173 votes, Dalton had 11,408, and McLamb 5,785. Dalton said that there is "no way to know" if McLamb played spoiler "without going back and re-running the race," but Dalton has no complaints about how the campaign was fought.

"I think we all ran good campaigns," she said. "They were clean. We focused on the positive, what set us apart, and the people went to the polls and voted.

"Now," she added, "we all have to go to work tomorrow."