Sanning's election opens doors for female lawyers
Stacey Sanning was sworn into the office of County Attorney in January 2019 after her election in November 2018, making her the first female to hold the position in Pendleton County.
Sanning is currently one of only 22 women to hold this office among the Commonwealth’s 120 counties. Although this only accounts for a mere 18% of Kentucky’s County Attorneys, Sanning says that is the highest the number has ever been.
“25 years ago, this was still very much a man’s profession,” she says, but that seems to be shifting now, and women like Sanning are leading the way.
Sanning grew up in the small town of Stanford, Kentucky in Lincoln County. After high school, she went on to Eastern Kentucky University, where she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in History. As a fresh college graduate, Sanning was unsure about what direction she should go. She considered going back to school to become a history professor, but family members suggested law school. She took the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT, and scored exceptionally well; so with a full-tuition scholarship to Northern Kentucky University’s Chase College of Law, she was off to law school. That’s where her plans for the future really began to take shape.
“I’ve always wanted to be a prosecutor ever since I got the bug, ever since I went to law school. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.” But to be a prosecutor in Kentucky, you have to be elected, and to be elected you have to have experience.
So, Sanning began practicing law.
She married Matt Sanning whom she met while the two of them were in law school, and the couple brought their family to Pendleton County in 1999. Sanning says she wanted her children to have the same rural upbringing she had, and Pendleton County was the perfect place. She and Matt have raised their three children here, and they practice law here as partners. Her office has been in other places over the years, but she has been located in Falmouth since 2008, and she opened an additional office in Butler in 2018.
When Sanning decided to run for County Attorney, she did so because she felt some things could be improved. She also felt she had the experience and skills to make those improvements if she were elected.
In just the first few months of her first term, she has made some noticeable changes. Her office is supervising misdemeanor probations more closely, and they have been finding one to two cases a week where probation has been violated. The message to violators is clear: toe the line or do your time. In cases where the charges are drug related, Sanning is quick to offer treatment, knowing that addressing the root problem will keep people out of the court room and help them become productive members of society.
During her campaign, Sanning expressed the desire to use the position tostart new programs that would allow the prosecutor to work with the defendants in order to help them. Most of these programs are targeted at the drug problem that has swept not only Pendleton County, but the entire country. As a member of the District Drug Court, Sanning has seen the devastation caused by drugs up close and personal. Drug Court is a program where people who have been arrested on drug charges are given the opportunity to recover from their addiction and reintegrate into society by doing things like attend treatment or 12-step meetings, work a regular job, submit to random drug tests, and more, all under close supervision of the court.
Shellie Blackburn is a member of the District Drug Court with Sanning, but prior to that, Shellie was a Drug Court participant. She says it is clear that Sanning, “really cares about the people on the other side of the courtroom. She wants to work with them...She’s open to finding a solution for these people...She’s just a breath of fresh air.”
The programs that Sanning’s office has in the works reflect this attitude of caring and the focus on the person, not the problem; for example, pre-arrest program would help addicts get help before they are actually charged with a crime. Like many others, Sanning believes that if addiction, the root problem, is addressed, then the chances of that individual being back in court will be drastically reduced.
Another proposed program would be in conjunction with Social Services. This program would pair parents who have lost custody of their children with parents who have been in this situation but have had their families reunited. Sanning has served as defense counsel in many cases like this and has seen how a feeling of hopelessness can overcome parents in this situation. From the parents’ perspective, everyone is against them; however, the ultimate goal of social services is to keep families together, but not at the cost of the children.
Sanning says, “It helps to have someone who has been through it there...someone who understands and has been on their side of the issue.”
Money is one of many challenges to starting a program like this, and, for these sorts of programs, is practically nonexistent. Instead, they often require a great deal of volunteer effort and time on the part of the community.
Sanning also wants to be proactive by addressing the reality of the drugs and their consequences by bringing a program to children. While the program is still in the planning stages, her goal is to help teens especially understand that alcohol and drugs can cause them very real trouble, even if they are minors.
“They don’t realize that, if they are over 16, they are responsible for a DUI as an adult would be, or that even their friends’ drugs in their car will be counted against them as a possession charge, or that marijuana possession could bring them up to a year in jail.”
Sanning has enlisted the help of her new intern, Hannah Hart, an incoming senior at Pendleton County High School, to get this job done.
Hart, who plans to study law, finds inspiration in Sanning’s role.
“It shows other women that they can hold office, too--that men don’t have to run everything,” Hart says.
Sanning says that she “was never told you can’t do that because you’re a girl. It never occurred to me that I should be treated differently from a boy, that I couldn’t do the same things. It shouldn’t be any different.”
Stacey Sanning is working hard to make the ideas she has to benefit the county come to fruition. She is making sure there are consequences for people who break the law. She is working to be certain that those who need help get help. And she is making history by being the first woman to serve the county in this office.