A Franklin County judge agreed Friday with an area circuit court judge candidate who claimed a Kentucky law passed in 2013 was unconstitutional.
The law may have prevented Steve D. Hurt of Burkesville from being considered a valid candidate for the office he is seeking.
Hurt had served as judge for the 60th district from 1986 to 2009, when he resigned and became part of the senior status special judge program, he said in the lawsuit, and he began his five-year term in the senior status program Feb. 1, 2009. Hurt said he completed his contractual obligations to the senior status program after serving his 600th day in December 2013.
On the last possible day to file for office in the 2014 primary, which was Jan. 28, he filed his papers at the Kentucky secretary of state’s office to seek the judge’s seat for the 40th Circuit, which contains Monroe, Cumberland and Clinton counties. A few days later, Hurt filed the lawsuit; he didn’t want to put the time, effort and money into his campaign if there was a chance he could be challenged on his eligibility to run up until the day of election.
The legislation, introduced as House Bill 427 in the 2013 Kentucky General Assembly, says “A judge who elected to retire as a Senior Status Special Judge in accordance with KRS 21.580 shall not become a candidate or a nominee for any elected office during the five (5) year term prescribed in KRS 21.580(1)(a)1, regardless of the number of days served by the judge acting as a Senior Status Special Judge.”
The defendants in the suit were the Kentucky State Board of Elections, Maryellen Allen as executive director of the Kentucky State Board of Elections, and Alison Lundergan Grimes as Kentucky secretary of state and State Board of Elections chair.
In the lawsuit, Hurt said the wording for the program needed to be clarified as to how to interpret the time frames for the contract. Hurt claimed the 2013 law was unconstitutional because the defendants do not have the authority to change the Kentucky Constitution in that manner.
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip J. Shepherd agreed with Hurt on that count.
Shepherd declined to issue a ruling on how the timeframe for the senior status contract should be defined because no actual controversy was presented because the commonwealth declined to take a position on that issue.
The defendants had accepted his papers for candidacy and said there’s no “allegation that any of the Defendants have taken or will take any action” that will infringe upon Hurt’s rights.
The state entities sued said the purpose of the bill may be to prevent “’double dipping’ so that judges who draw and enhanced retirement benefit from their service as Senior Judges will be precluded from ‘drawing a paycheck’ in addition to their enhanced retirement benefits.”
On Friday by telephone, Hurt said he was pleased with the judgement.
“I believed it was [unconstitutional] as soon as I heard about it,” he said.
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