Judge pledges quick decision on delay of election filing deadline over redistricting

jbrammer@herald-leader.comFebruary 6, 2012 

FRANKFORT — After a nearly four-hour court hearing Monday on a legal challenge of Kentucky's new legislative district boundaries, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd said he hoped to rule within a day or two so an appeal could occur quickly.

Shepherd said that if he did not rule by late Tuesday, he would extend a restraining order he issued last week that moved the election filing deadline for legislative candidates from Jan. 31 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. That would extend the filing deadline.

At issue is a request by House Republicans for a temporary injunction to extend the filing deadline for state legislative candidates so the GOP can try to overturn the legislative election districts.

House Republicans and Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, say the legislative districts approved by the General Assembly in House Bill 1 are unconstitutional. Gov. Steve Beshear already has signed the measure into law.

Last week, the judge allowed Stein to intervene in the case as a plaintiff. Her district in Fayette County was moved to northeastern Kentucky.

Shepherd issued the restraining order last week instead of the temporary injunction that Republicans wanted. He said he needed more time to consider a temporary injunction. A restraining order cannot be appealed to a higher court, but an injunction can.

At Monday morning's hearing, Shepherd heard arguments from attorneys for House Republicans and Stein on why he should grant an injunction. Attorneys for Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the state's top election officer, presented the state's case against the injunction.

Shepherd also allowed the Legislative Research Commission, a research arm for state lawmakers, to intervene in the case. It is represented by Louisville attorney Sheryl Snyder, who contended the redistricting was constitutional.

HB 1 is unconstitutional primarily because it divides more counties into separate legislative districts than necessary, House Republicans say. The House plan split 28 counties and 246 precincts, although only 22 counties have more than the roughly 43,000 people that each district must contain. A GOP proposal would have split 24 counties and 10 precincts.

However he rules, Shepherd said, the case probably will end up in the Kentucky Supreme Court.

David Tachau, an attorney for Grimes, said the secretary of state was not defending or attacking the legislative redistricting but wanted to make sure the process was done properly.

Tachau also told the court that there is an April 2 deadline for printing ballots for the May 22 primary elections.

Meanwhile, the legislature is still working on a compromise to redraw the boundaries for Kentucky's six congressional districts and probably will have to push back Tuesday's 4 p.m. filing deadline for congressional candidates.

Senate State and Local Government chairman Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he could not vote for a tentative compromise reached late last week that would move Garrard County from Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District, represented by Democrat Ben Chandler of Woodford County, to the 2nd District, represented by Republican Brett Guthrie of Bowling Green.

Thayer wants to keep Garrard in the 6th District to help Andy Barr, a Lexington Republican who is seeking a rematch with Chandler this year. Barr narrowly lost to Chandler in 2010.

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