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Circuit Court Judge primary race includes Denman, Smith

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Jill Denman

By JENNIFER PERYAM - jperyam@h-ponline.com

The May 8 primary race includes four Republican candidates for Huntington County Circuit Court Judge. The candidates include Jill Denman, Jamie Groves, Davin Smith and Justin Wall. The Hearld-Press previously profiled Groves and Wall. Today, The Herald-Press features Denman and Smith.

Jill Denman 

Attorney Jill Denman is seeking the Huntington County Circuit Court Judge seat where she plans to use her 21 years of experience as an attorney to serve the community.

Denman, 46, Huntington, graduated from Wabash High School in 1989. She attended Bradley University, Peoria, Ill., and received a bachelor’s of arts degree in political science and English graduating in 1993. She then attended Indiana University Bloomington receiving her law degree in 1996.

Denman became an attorney for Matheny, Michael, Hahn & Bailey LLP in 1996. She is an owner and partner at the same law firm that is now known as Matheny, Hahn & Denman LLP.

She has been an attorney for 21 years. 

“I have handled the juvenile delinquency contract in Huntington for the past 21 years. That was the first thing I started doing as a young attorney,” Denman said. She was one of 13 attorneys selected by the National Juvenile Defenders Association to train other attorneys.

She has also picked up the contracts for juvenile delinquency cases in Wabash and Wells counties. In addition, she is an adult public defender and handles criminal cases such as child molesting, drug offenses and operating while intoxicated.

Denman is a registered family law mediator and handles real state, business transactions and personal injury cases.

“I handle custody cases, real estate disputes, writing wills as well as handling probate administration,” Denman said.

She said having 21 years of experience in criminal law and civil cases will help her transition into the role as judge.

“I really want to make a difference in the court. There are a lot of changes I would like to see made within the juvenile system,” Denman said.

She said she would like to see the court implement a Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative. The program would bring together people from the community to determine guidelines for when a juvenile should be detained.

“Psychological studies have shown that as adverse consequences to the long term benefits of the juvenile,” said Denman. She also pointed out, “It’s really expensive to detain everyone and the county pays for that.”   

She suggested an option such as electronic home detention.

Denman serves on a committee in Wabash County that is working with the Annie Casey Foundation. The foundation has provided a grant for communities to form a task force to look for determinations of detaining the right juveniles for the right reasons.

“As a judge, you are to interpret the contract, not make contracts and I think that’s important,” Denman said.

She said she would like to see increased usage of the Drug Court.

“I am thankful that we have it, but I would like to see it expanded as well as mental health services,” Denman said.

She said if the mental health crisis is not tackled, the drug addiction problem will not be solved.

Denman is married to John and they have six children between them.

Davin Smith

Attorney Davin Smith is seeking the Huntington County Circuit Court Judge seat with goals to bring problem solving courts.

Smith, 40, is a 1995 Huntington North High School graduate. He also graduated from Indiana University Kelley School of Business in Bloomington.

He received a bachelor of science degree in marketing in 2000 and his law degree in 2003 from Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis.

He has been an attorney at Bowers, Brewer, Garrett and Wiley for over six years.

“I do general practice cases such as criminal defense, personal injury, department of child services, write wills and estate planning,” Smith said. “All the cases that are in Circuit Court I have had experience with.”

After he got his law degree he served as in-house counsel for Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company in Fort Wayne for 8-1/2 years.

He said serving as an attorney has allowed him to have a lot of client interactions.

“I enjoy that I get to help people and that is what an attorney really does,” Smith said.

If elected, he said he would like to expand Problem Solving Courts.

“Right now we have a drug court and I would like to expand that to a family court which would be for our DCS cases,” Smith said.

He said research shows problem solving courts are the direction that the state should be going. He said he thinks it will give people some extra structure, supervision and resources.

He also supports adding a veterans court and a re-entry court.

A re-entry court would allow sentence time to be reduced near the end by 90 to 180 days.

“It allows them to have extra supervision like a community corrections program and get help getting back into employment,” Smith said. He also said this would provide counseling services and keeps offenders accountable. He said it helps them to transition from being incarcerated to a productive member of society.

He would also like to expand the county’s Community Corrections program. Smith believes this will assist with overcrowding at the jail.

He said he would like to see more people in the program that he said is an alternative program rather than incarceration.

“Rather than having to pay to have an inmate at the Huntington County Jail someone has to pay to be in the Community Corrections program,” Smith said.

Instead of being housed at the jail, they can have an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet program or participate in a curfew or day reporting program.


He would like to use mediation more in the courtroom and said that gets cases resolved quicker and cheaper that way. It will help alleviate the number of cases on the docket that will allow better response to emergency cases, Smith said.

Smith is married to Ella and they have four children.