Joe Bilby is a constitutional conservative. He believes that a judge should always follow the law, and that’s what he promises to do as a judge on the Franklin Circuit Court.
In June 2003, Joe entered Officer Candidate School at the Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia. After graduating and being commissioned as a second lieutenant in August 2003, he underwent six months of platoon leadership training at The Basic School at Quantico. Next he reported to the U.S. Army’s artillery school in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for five months of instruction in gunnery and fire support.
In November 2004, Joe reported to Third Battalion, Eleventh Marines aboard the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California. His first unit, Mike Battery, deployed to Iraq in February 2005. Joe served as platoon commander for 40 Marines and sailors at Kalsu, a forward operating base near the city of Iskandariah.
Joe returned with Mike Battery to Twentynine Palms in October 2005. Soon after that, Joe was selected to serve as Executive Officer for another battery within the battalion. As XO, Joe was the second-in-command for India Battery’s deployment to Southeast Asia with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. India Battery joined up with an infantry battalion to form the MEU’s ground combat element. Their time with the MEU in 2006 took them to Okinawa, mainland Japan, and the Philippines, and included travel aboard the U.S.S. Juneau.
India Battery returned to Twentynine Palms in early 2007, several months before Joe’s end of active duty service in May 2007.
After finishing law school at the University of Kentucky, Joe took a job with a law firm in Louisville. He gained valuable experience in state and federal courts as an employment law attorney. He also developed a special interest in serving the legal needs of religious organizations. In his first few years as an attorney, Joe had an opportunity to work closely with client representatives in churches and other religions organizations in a variety of denominations: Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian, and non-denominational Protestant. One of those cases, decided by the Kentucky Supreme Court in 2014, was the landmark opinion establishing an important religious-freedom principle (the religious abstention doctrine) in Kentucky’s body of law.
In July 2016, Joe took a new job as the top lawyer with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. His duties include representing the agency in court proceedings and leading KDA’s effort to design and implement the legal framework for Kentucky’s hemp program which is now widely regarded as one of the best in the nation. From this experience, Joe developed a strong understanding of the legal system’s impact on the tens of thousands of Kentucky farm families and agribusiness owners who work hard to feed and clothe people around the world.
In addition to his work for KDA, Joe also maintains a small law firm where he represents employers and religious organizations. During the COVD-19 pandemic, Joe represented a Baptist church in Nicholasville when it successfully sued to vindicate its constitutional right to hold worship services according to the same rules that were applicable to other “life sustaining” businesses and social organizations. He also represented a Christian school in its challenge to the constitutionality of an executive order that shut down in-person instruction in religious schools for more than a month in late 2020.
Joe and his wife Lesley met while they were law students at the University of Kentucky. They married in August 2011. They have two children, a nine-year old daughter and a five-year old son.
They are active in our community. In the last year, Joe has served as head coach for five youth sports teams (basketball and soccer) at the YMCA. He is active in Frankfort’s American Legion post and its Veterans of Foreign Wars post. He is a member of Good Shepherd Catholic Church and active in its Knights of Columbus council, particularly during the Lenten fish fry season. Lesley is a member of Buck Run Baptist Church and Joe frequently joins her and their children at Buck Run on Sunday mornings.