LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – At first glance, long-time prosecutor Jim Lesousky would seem to have a bit of an advantage among the candidates vying for the lone seat up for grabs on Jefferson County’s district court bench in Tuesday's election.

Lesousky received the highest ratings in a judicial poll by the Louisville Bar Association and picked up perhaps the most coveted endorsement, from the Citizens for Better Judges, a group made up of attorneys and members of the community.

Also, experience is typically the most touted attribute for judicial candidates and Lesousky has served more than three decades as both a state and federal prosecutor, including several high-profile cases.

But judicial races in Jefferson County are often a crap shoot, with voters choosing among little-known candidates, making name recognition critical.

And 28-year-old Sara Nicholson has spent more than the other six candidates combined in hopes of imprinting her name on the minds of voters.

Nicholson has raised and spent more than $60,000, and she already has some name recognition, being the daughter of Jefferson Circuit Court Clerk David Nicholson.

However, she is only a few years removed from law school and 81 percent of the attorneys found Nicholson unqualified, with only 19 percent ranking her as qualified or highly qualified.

The most well-known candidate in the bar poll was long-time state Rep. Bob Heleringer, an attorney for 40 years.

Heleringer also fared well in the bar poll, with 83 percent of the attorneys finding him qualified or highly qualified, trailing only Lesousky (94 %) and attorney John Cook (85 %).

Heleringer has raised $10,500, according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance website, though the most recent records are from Oct. 24.

In the last few weeks, Heleringer had several commercials run, including during the World Series. A family friend, Taylor Schilling, who plays plays federal prisoner Piper Chapman on the Netflix series "Orange is the New Black,” endorsed Heleringer in one of the advertisements.

State and federal prosecutor Tom Van De Rostyne was the second most known candidate of the 687 attorneys who responded to the bar poll.

But at least some of this recognition may be notoriety more than anything else.

Van De Rostyne, who is currently an assistant attorney general, was accused of misconduct in the Dejuan Hammond murder case, which was in the headlines for years because Hammond paid a juvenile to kill a witness in his brother’s murder trial.

As a prosecutor with the Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, Van De Rostyne for years failed to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence in the case, causing a mistrial and prompting multiple allegations of misconduct. An internal review found Van De Rostyne’s handling of the case was sloppy but “inadvertent” and not “intentional misconduct.”

Van De Rostyne, who has raised and spent about $7,500 on this election, was not retained when he lost a campaign for current Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine in 2012.

Besides Nicholson, Van De Rostyne had the highest “unqualified” ranking in the bar poll, at 44 percent.

Attorney Tanisha Hickerson has raised the second most money, $13,825. Hickerson was found to be qualified or highly qualified by 72 percent of the attorneys who responded to the bar poll. She has been an attorney for about a decade, but was not well known among those who responded to the bar poll. 

Stephanie Willis, a former public defender who has practiced since 2003 and is a staff attorney with the consumer unit of the Legal Aid Society, has not raised any money. In the bar poll, 67 percent found her qualified or highly qualified. She was also not well known by the bar.  

Cook, who resigned as Shepherdsville city attorney earlier this year was the least known of the candidates, just behind Willis. 603 of the 687 attorneys who responded to the bar poll either didn't evaluate Cook or didn't know him. But those who did know of Cook rated him very highly.

District judges are paid $112,668 annually. The winner will serve out the term of retired Judge Sheila Collins, which ends in 2018.

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