Heather Fryman dons her robe and steps into the courtroom in the Harrison County Courthouse to preside over another session of family court as a judge in Kentucky's 18th Circuit Division II. On the docket this morning is a domestic violence case. On other days, cases she hears range from juvenile disputes to divorces and custody battles.
Her approach as a family court judge draws from her experience as a prosecutor in death penalty cases and the personal challenges she's faced, including having a mother who was diagnosed multiple times with mental illness, and having been raised by her grandmother, whom she credits with instilling in her the empathy and compassion required to be a family court judge.
"That's why this job is so important to me," Heather says. "I can relate to a lot of the kids that we have (here in court)."
When court ends, Heather leaves other families' problems behind in her chambers and goes home to the 144-acre farm where she and her husband, Jeff, are living out their dreams with their two daughters, Sara, 10, and Taylor, 14, and dozens of rabbits, horses, goats, pigs, cows, ducks, cats and dogs.
The farm is tranquil compared to her courtroom, as rolling hills covered in hues of reds and oranges set a fall landscape. For Heather, family is everything, and part of maintaining that priority is making sure she doesn't bring her work home. Life as a judge exposes her to the darker sides of human nature. In order to maintain a balance, she says, "You have to build a mental separation . . . and you can never let that wall break down."
But farm life also comes with its own set of challenges. Heather's daughters competitively breed rabbits, and maintaining 80-100 rabbits at any one time as well as almost 100 other animals can be hectic, especially when the girls get behind on their feeding schedules. That doesn't stop Heather from finding time to take care of her precious Tennessee Walking Horses, some of which she says have the same personality as lap dogs.
Owning horses was a childhood dream. Alone in her barn in the freezing rain, she makes time to make sure that they are well taken care of. Whether it is taking her daughters to school or ballet classes, organizing the local 4-H Horse Club, or presiding over a Teen Court, Heather makes time to commit to the things she loves.
"When someone tells me I can't, I find a way to prove that I can," she says.