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The role of a county judge varies from region to region in the United States. States like Texas and Kentucky incorporate executive roles with judicial duties under the county judge title. Most states outside of the South give county judges the responsibility of dealing with appeals from local courts. Lawyers, city judges and law enforcement professionals need to take deliberate steps toward county judge positions.
Obtain a law degree from an accredited university before pursuing a career as a county judge. Every state requires judicial candidates to hold law degrees that ensure advanced knowledge of legal procedures and precedent.
Pass the bar exam in your state of residency to ensure the legitimacy of a county judge candidacy. States require candidates to hold accreditation from these legal bodies to ensure high ethical and professional standards. Seek out admission to bar associations in other states to widen opportunities for judicial positions once residency is established.
Establish residency in a county well ahead of minimum requirements set by the state election board. Every state has different standards for residency that ensure judges, legislators and administrators are familiar with local issues. A good rule of thumb for lawyers interested in settling down in a county is establishing residency 24 months ahead of candidate registration.
Seek out positions in city courts to build up a resume that will impress voters during county elections. A young lawyer should try to build up experience as a public defender and local justice of the peace to gain familiarity with local precedent.
Pursue a career in law enforcement before pursuing the position of county judge. Police officers and detectives that achieve law degrees through night school bring unique perspectives to the county bench. This path to county judiciary positions can take 10 to 20 years in order to gain appropriate experience in law enforcement.
Consult with retired judges and lawyers familiar with the county court system before running for judicial positions. These experienced professionals can discuss internal politics, day-to-day operations and rigors of running countywide campaigns. Frequent conversations can lead to endorsements and support during heated electoral campaigns.
File with the state elections board in advance of deadlines for nonpartisan local elections. Many states require signatures from county residents as well as a statement of principles from judicial candidates. Local judges and other candidates should prepare financial reports that answer ethical questions from state election officials.
Demonstrate knowledge of local issues, state laws and the needs of voters during a campaign for county judges. Voters in states that use plebiscites to choose county judges look for legal knowledge and independence at ballot boxes. Candidates should use web sites, brochures and one-on-one conversations to convince voters of their qualifications.
Maintain contact with the governor's office to stay in the hunt for midterm judicial appointments. Most governors have the authority to name successors for retired, deceased and impeached judges at the county level until the next election cycle.
Avoid partisan appeals to donors and potential constituents during campaigns for county judge seats. Most states leave partisan preferences off of judicial ballots to lessen the impact of state parties and interest groups. Campaign materials used by judicial candidates should focus on legal and law enforcement achievements rather than political accomplishments.
- Photo by Susie Holderfield