Todd Walton leaves behind a record of fairness, firmness and compassion as he steps down from the bench after serving for 17 years as district judge in Mason, Bracken and Fleming Counties.

Those are important attributes for any judge.

But Walton’s greatest legacy may be the CASA Program he created, nurtured and supported for more than a decade. Court Appointed Special Advocates are volunteers who stand up in court with neglected and abused children. The program provides these children with someone who talks to them about their problems, arranges for needed services such as medical intervention and stands with them in the juvenile courtroom as adults try to determine how and where they will live.

In short, the goal of CASA and its volunteers is to provide a safe, permanent home for children as quickly as possible.

As those in power search for a replacement for Judge Walton, they should consider the future of this vital program. The appointment of a judge to fill Walton’s unexpired term is a complicated process involving a 3-person committee that makes a recommendation to the governor. That recommendation includes a list of three names from which the governor is to choose Walton’s successor.

The appointee will serve for two years. In 2014, voters will elect someone to serve a full four-year term.

Support for the CASA program and a commitment to the future of CASA in the three-county district should be one criterion for the appointment and for the election in 2014.

Not all counties have a CASA program and not all CASA programs have been successful. It is a testament to Walton, to the CASA board, to its executive director Marty Wallingford and to the more than 100 volunteers who have served area children that such is not the case here.

With no state or federal financial support, the CASA program is funded by local sources and keeps a tight rein on its expenses. This month, eight new volunteers will take training and join others already in the field.

In the last 12 months, the number of children requiring CASA advocates has grown from 91 to 156, a frightening increase much of that attributable to hard core drug abuse.

More than 650 children have been served by CASA since its founding in 2000. Those children have social workers and they have court appointed attorneys, but – in many cases – it is the CASA volunteer who has the most information when a judge is forced to make difficult decisions about their futures.

Working together, the attorneys, social workers and CASA volunteers create a team that can put the best interests of the children in the forefront.

Many supporters and volunteers are needed to keep our CASA program strong, but one key is a district judge who understands the importance of this volunteer program. We encourage the governor to take that into consideration when the time comes to make an appointment.

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