Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

February 3, 2014

Suit filed over 40th Circuit, 1st Division judge’s seat

By MELINDA J. OVERSTREET
Glasgow Daily Times

GLASGOW — An area judicial candidate has filed a lawsuit to assert his right to run for the office he is seeking.

Steve Hurt, who is challenging David L. Williams to be judge for the 40th Circuit, 1st Division, filed the suit Monday in Franklin Circuit Court in Frankfort, pointing out that a law enacted by the Kentucky General Assembly last year would make him ineligible, but he believes the rule violates his Kentucky and U.S. constitutional rights.

The 40th circuit contains Monroe, Cumberland and Clinton counties. The lawsuit was filed in Franklin County because the Kentucky secretary of state’s office is there, and that is where all judicial candidates file to run for office.

Hurt had served as judge for the 60th district, which contains Monroe and Cumberland counties, from January 1986 to Jan. 31, 2009, when he resigned, according to the court document. The following day, he began his service in the senior status program for special judges in accordance with the guidelines from the Kentucky Constitution and state law at the time, according to the lawsuit.

On Dec. 18, he completed his 600th day of the service, “and therefore fully satisfied any and all requirements he had to the senior status program for special judges. On Jan. 28, he filed to run for the 40th Circuit judicial seat, all according to the lawsuit. Jan. 28 was the deadline to file for any potential primary election to narrow the field to two candidates; because only two people filed in the nonpartisan race, they would not appear on a ballot until the General Election in November.

The issue is a new rule that was part of House Bill 427, which was introduced into the commonwealth’s legislature Feb. 19, 2013, and became law the following month. This new law states that a judge who elected to retire as a senior status special judge “shall not become a candidate or a nominee for any elected office during the five (5) year term prescribed in [state law], regardless of the number of days served by the judge acting as a senior status special judge,” according to the lawsuit.

The Kentucky Constitution, however, sets forth the requirements for judicial candidates: U.S. citizenship, licensure to practice law in Kentucky, residency of the commonwealth and the location s/he would be serving for two years prior to the date of taking the office. In addition, for certain judgeships, including circuit court, the candidate must have been a licensed attorney for at least eight years, according to the lawsuit.

The document lays out his qualifications as required by the constitution and certain duties required by state law of the commonwealth’s board of elections and secretary of state, two of the three entities listed as defendants in Hurt’s lawsuit, with the other being Maryellen Allen, in her capacity as executive director of the board.

Because HB 427 “places qualifications that are in addition to and inconsistent with the requirements of Section 116 of the Kentucky Constitution, [it] is therefore unconstitutional and invalid,” the lawsuit asserts.

Another section of the Kentucky constitution forbids the legislature from passing local or special acts for certain subjects in “all other cases where a general law can be made applicable,” according to the lawsuit

The document, prepared by Hurt’s attorney, James L. Deckard of Lexington, lists two reasons HB 427 violates the U.S. Constitution and would be invalid: It violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment by providing an unlawful distinction as to who may be a candidate for this office. And, as a law enacted after the fact, it violates Article 1, Section 10, Clause 1 in relation to Hurt’s rights after his “entry into and fulfillment of the contractual obligations” of the senior judge program.

Other issues with HB 427 stated by the plaintiff are that it impairs Hurt’s contract with the commonwealth with regard to his being a member of the Judicial Form Retirement System and it constitutes deprivations of Hurt’s rights under U.S. law. As a result of the latter, Hurt is entitled to reasonable attorney’s fee as part of the costs of the suit, the document states.

Hurt is requesting an expedited hearing on the merits of the case; a declaratory judgment that HB 427 is unconstitutional and invalid; a temporary and a permanent injunction prohibiting the enforcement of HB 427; a reasonable attorney’s fee; and anything else to which he may be entitled.

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