January 21 will be Daviess Circuit Division II Judge Joe Castlen’s last “official” day. At age 70, after debating whether or not to give up his long-running term as judge, Castlen said he was finally convinced it was time to hang up his robes.
“This summer, I had problems with the e-warrant system, and I was livid — I was mad,” Castlen said, commenting that he was convinced something was wrong with the electronic warrant system. “I said some things I probably shouldn’t have said to some people.”
“Then, another judge told me there was no problem with the system, that they hadn’t had any issues with it. They said to me, ‘Joe, you’re just an old dinosaur,’” Castlen said with a laugh.
However, Castlen isn’t going away that easily. He said, at least for a while, he’ll be gradually “fading away” as he plans to sit on the bench the day after his official retirement, and also handle some of the court cases until his position officially belongs to someone else.
Castlen’s career has included 23-and-a-half years served in the general practice and a little over 18 years on the bench. While Castlen had many other jobs leading up to becoming a judge, nothing has compared to his years spent in the courtroom, he said.
“It’s about all I’ve known,” Castlen said.
As for what comes next in choosing a judge to take his place, Castlen said the election will happen in around three months’ time. It all begins with an appointment process, where a committee will be formed in Frankfort.
After the committee is formed, Castlen said they will send out advertisements for the open position. Those interested must have at least 8 years experience practicing law and be in good overall standing in the community.
A panel of three judges are then selected by the committee, comprised of an equal number of judicial candidates from each political affiliation, Castlen said. After the three are chosen, the names are sent to the governor, who will either choose a name, or nobody at all.
“There might be a primary. If there’s a primary, it’ll be whittled down to two [judges],” Castlen added.
Castlen said word on the street is that two of the judges being considered are district judges David Payne of District II and Lisa Jones of District I. Castlen said they are both very excited for the chance to be circuit judge.
For Castlen, it’s not necessarily easy to step down and take it easy. He said that he loves his job, and his ability to make a difference in the lives of others.
“Well, I do love what I do. I get a lot of satisfaction from it,” Castlen said. “When people tell me these horrendous stories that are not in my courtroom, it’s difficult for me to listen. But when I’m on the bench, it feels like I’ve got some control over what’s happening.”
As for what’s changed in the courtroom in the last 20 years that Castlen’s been a part of it, he said a lot of things are different now than they were at the beginning.
“On the civil end, we’re receiving 30 percent of what we received 20 years ago. The cases in criminal–it’s mushroomed,” Castlen said. “In two days’ time, I hear as many cases as were handled by both divisions of circuit court when I started practicing.”
The reasoning behind criminal cases multiplying over the years is due to different factors, including stricter criminal enforcement and prosecution, and legislation enacting so many more laws than before. Castlen said he feels that drug crimes have multiplied because legislation at all levels has taken the wrong approach to the drug problems.
“National and state legislature has failed us greatly,” Castlen said of the drug epidemic.
Nonetheless, Castlen is appreciative for the time he’s been given and for the people he’s worked with along the way. He says Owensboro and Daviess County have a great group of lawyers working in the local area–as good as you’d find anywhere, in fact.
“They’re sharp, and they work very hard,” Castlen said.