Derrick Willis: Family Court Judge Candidate – “I will rely on my life and legal experiences to make good decisions and help the lives of children.”


Grayson Attorney Derrick Willis said he will rely upon the lessons learned in life, as well as his experiences in courts “from Lewis to Letcher and Clark County and everywhere in between” if elected to serve as Family Court Judge for the 37th Judicial Circuit, made up of Carter, Elliott and Morgan County.

“I have wanted to be a Family Court Judge since 2012 when my own family practice picked up and I was working a lot of neglect and abuse cases for the Carter County Attorney through Bob Miller and Patrick Flannery,” Willis said during a recent interview with the Carter County Post.

Local Roots

Willis grew up “just outside of Grayson on a farm, and is a member of the East Carter High School Class of 1999, where he played baseball and basketball until instead deciding to go to work.

“I quit to work at Raider Mart and our farm,” Willis said, noting the family raised tobacco, cattle and hay. “It helped develop a strong work ethic.”

The son of a disabled Army and National Guard veteran, Donnie Willis, he said his father-in-law, David Brown, is also a disabled Army veteran who remains active with veterans affairs. His son is on active duty with the U.S. Army, and currently stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia.

“I love my family and we are very patriotic. We miss our son,” he added.

Education & Work

Willis attended Morehead State University before graduating from law school at Northern Kentucky University in 2006, before going to work for a year as a clerk for Boyd County Circuit Court and then two years at the Department of Public Advocacy. The next couple of years were devoted to a private law firm in Ashland, where Willis said he prosecuted cases in Boyd County before making a return to Grayson.

“That was always the goal,” he said of the homecoming. His law firm’s office, opened in 2011 on Hord Street, is in the former home of Dr. Stovall, next to the one-time site of Grayson’s old hospital. He has worked for the Commonwealth Attorney and County Attorney’s offices representing Carter, Morgan and Elliott County since returning to Carter County.

He has also represented Grayson RECC and the City of Olive Hill as City Attorney, “and I built an office from the ground up.”

His experiences include prosecuting “many jury trials including crimes against children.”

The Job Ahead

The non-partisan Family Court Judge’s race is Willis’ “first time in politics,” he said with a smile. Willis faces Jeniffer Barker Neice and Gary Conn during the upcoming General Election.

Family Court, he explained, is a hybrid of circuit and district courts which allows dedicated attention to issues including domestic violence, child custody, neglect and abuse.

“Anything dealing with family is family court,” he said, soon adding a Family Court Judge has more latitude to use their own discretion than in other courts. “There aren’t as many ‘shalls and musts’ involved.”

“I will rely on my life and legal experiences to make good decisions and help the lives of children.”

Family & Fun

Willis and his family enjoy outdoor pursuits when and if any free time becomes available.

“I like to spend time on the farm. I like to hunt and (bass) fish,” he said.

“We love going to Carter Caves and hiking as a family – or to Grayson Lake. We don’t utilize our state parks like we should,” Willis said. “Just time with family and friends – watching UK sports.”

“And we like to travel,” he said, smiling as recalled the enjoyment of a recent opportunity to spend time surf and pier fishing.

The family also enjoys the campgrounds at Carter Caves State Resort Park. “My son has to have WiFi and my wife doesn’t like roughing it,” he said with a chuckle.

Willis explains his wife, Shara “Brown” Willis, is a West Carter High School graduate before adding with a chuckle, “My father-in-law can’t get over his grandchildren being Raiders.”

Their son, Dawson, serves in the military, and their daughter, Dara, is 15, and their youngest, Daniel, is nine years old. The family pet is an English Bulldog named “Snoop.” A member of Oak Grove Church of Christ, Willis said he consulted with Preacher Bradley Cotton before becoming a Family Court Judge candidate.

Willis said he also enjoys being active in community projects and aware of local government concerns and actions.

Following this interview, Willis’ Legal Assistant Tonya Caines offered her personal endorsement.

“He will be the most fair Family Court Judge in the history of Carter County. He is very fair minded and looks out for the best interest of children and families. That’s why Carter, Morgan and Elliott County need him.”

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Story & Photo by TIM PRESTON

Carter County Post


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