By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
NEWPORT - Just five weeks after voters approved a measure expanding the state's family court system, a veteran judge has been tapped to oversee the first family court in Campbell County.
District Judge Michael "Mickey" Foellger has been named the county's family court judge by Kentucky Chief Justice Joseph Lambert, who pushed for the expansion that voters approved through a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Judge Foellger will assume his new duties Jan. 6. He will be elevated from district to circuit judge and will handle family-related issues and disputes. His cases will include divorce, child custody, child support, child abuse and neglect, juvenile crime, truancy and domestic violence.
A former juvenile court prosecutor long active in child-related issues, Judge Foellger said he is excited about the appointment.
"It came quick and it's a little overwhelming, but I'm very excited about it," Judge Foellger, 55, said Tuesday. "It's going to be an adjustment. The cases will be more difficult as a whole on an emotional level. But on the other hand, I feel like I'll do well because I want to help families and children get through difficult times and experiences in the court system.
"I'm going to do everything in my power to make it more comfortable for children to go through these proceedings."
Because of his passion for family and child-related issues, Judge Foellger will be successful in his new role, said Newport lawyer Pat Walsh.
"He's experienced and he knows the law, but the main reason he will do a good job is he is very interested in that area of the law," said Mr. Walsh, the Campbell County master commissioner.
Judge Foellger has been a District Court judge for 12 years. Before that, he worked as an assistant prosecutor in Campbell County's commonwealth and county attorney offices. He also worked on both sides of the aisle in juvenile court, defending as well as prosecuting juvenile offenders.
In addition to sitting on the District Court bench, Judge Foellger has also been an outspoken advocate for improving the criminal justice system relating to youthful offenders. He lobbied state lawmakers to provide money for construction of the $4.3 million regional juvenile detention facility eventually built in Newport, started the first juvenile drug court outside of Jefferson County and was instrumental in the establishment of Campbell County's Child Advocacy Center.
Details about how the court will operate, including where it will be located, must still be worked out. Judge Foellger said he likely will start out continuing to hear cases at the county's District Court building on Sixth Street in Newport. But he eventually would like to move to the county courthouse at Fourth and York streets in Newport.
"This position also comes with four staff positions, but there is nowhere to put four staff people in the District Court building. So there will be some growing pains to work out, but we'll get it done," Judge Foellger said.
Cases will also have to be shifted to the family court from the county's other judges - Circuit Judges Len Kopowski and Bill Wehr and District Judges Karen Thomas and Greg Popovich.
Family courts had existed in nine parts of the state - including Boone and Gallatin counties - before the election. But the passage of the constitutional amendment allows the courts to be expanded to other areas.
The father of two children, ages 7 and 10, Judge Foellger and his wife of 13 years, Sandy, live in Fort Thomas.
He is a youth sports coach and an accomplished musician who has played drums in several local bands, including The Wheels and The Lusters.
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