Candidates in a rematch for the District 7 Supreme Court seat are squaring off over an unusual subject — the challenger’s name.
Justice Will T. Scott’s campaign is suggesting that his opponent, Court of Appeals Judge Janet Stumbo, is being less than candid with voters about her name. Specifically, the campaign says Stumbo’s use of her maiden name gives her an unfair and inaccurate advantage with voters she would not have if she used the name of her husband, Prestonsburg attorney Ned Pillersdorf.
A statement released on Scott’s campaign website says Stumbo’s use of her maiden name confuses some voters, who believe she is closely related either to House Speaker Greg Stumbo or former gubernatorial candidate Dr. Grady Stumbo.
“Just recently, Stewart Media Group, again advised our campaign that ‘Janet Stumbo using her maiden name, Stumbo, on the ballot instead of her married name, Pillersdorf, gives her an artificial advantage that benefits her by approximately 4.9 percent of the vote,’” the campaign’s statement says. “This is due to noticeable numbers of voters who (mistakenly) believe that Janet is Grady Stumbo’s wife or Greg Stumbo’s sister. This mistaken advantage can be significant since 158,000 voters voted in this race in 2004.”
The statement goes on to point out that, while his opponent has used the Stumbo name in her political races, she has been listed as “Janet S. Pillersdorf” or “Janet Stumbo Pillersdorf” on deeds and mortgages.
“Moreover, Kentucky State Board of Elections records reflect she was registered to vote in Floyd County as Janet Stumbo Pillersdorf until Nov. 19, 1996 — just after her 1996 election to the Supreme Court as Justice Janet Stumbo,” the statement says. “Is she being entirely candid with the public and the press? You be the judge!”
Stumbo’s campaign has called the allegations “bizarre” and “false.”
In a statement released on her campaign website, the campaign says Stumbo retained her maiden name after marrying Pillersdorf and has used it exclusively throughout 27 years of marriage and in each of her five judical races. The statement goes on to say Stumbo “was already a practicing attorney and a partner with the law firm of Turner, Hall and Stumbo, and for that reason chose to retain her maiden name for professional purposes.”
“The suggestion on the Scott website that I have tried to mislead anyone about my identity is absurd,” Stumbo is quoted as saying in the statement. “On five different occasions I have sought elected office as either a Court of Appeals Judge or a Supreme Court Justice. Each time I have used the name I was born with – Janet Stumbo.”
Stumbo said questions about her name have been raised in previous campaigns, dating back to her first race, against Barkley Sturgill in 1989, and including by Scott in a speech when the two ran against each other in 2004. She said the fact that it is an issue at all reveals a double standard in politics.
“It’s an allegation that can only be made against women, if you think about it,” Stumbo said.
Stumbo said it is common for female attorneys to keep their maiden names after they get married, because they build stock in the names as professionals.
Pillersdorf said Wednesday that his wife has never used the Pillersdorf name. He said the bank lists her as Pillersdorf on mortgages and deeds for the sake of convenience and clarification.
“Every time we get a mortgage, they have to [list her name as Pillersdorf] to show that we’re married,” Pillersdorf said. “The bank does it. We don’t do it.”
Stumbo said adding her husband’s name to deeds clarifies ownership of property, in the event of a dispute later. Otherwise, she said it would be possible for someone else named Janet Stumbo to assert an ownership stake in the property.
“There’s a legal reason for doing it,” she said. “It’s a simple thing the bank does, and it’s a legal issue, potentially.”
On Thursday, Scott said his opponent has every right to use the Stumbo name, just as he has a right to clarify her identity for voters.
“Do you think any candidate should get 7,000 mistaken votes for free? …” Scott said. “I’m not attacking her name. That’s her name. But we don’t want voters thinking she’s someone she’s not.”
But Stumbo said she is not trying to run on anyone’s name but her own, and she believes she has succeeded in making a name for herself.
“If people don’t know who I am by now … I’ve been in public office since 1989, every year except for two years,” Stumbo said. “If they don’t know who I am, I don’t know what else I can do.”
Stumbo also said she doesn’t know what Scott’s motivation is for raising her name as an issue, but called the questions an “absurdity.”
“I don’t know what’s in his mind, but he seems kind of obsessed by it.”