Judicial candidate sues over Kentucky eligibility law

jbrammer@herald-leader.comFebruary 9, 2014 

FRANKFORT — A Burkesville lawyer who is challenging former state Senate President David Williams for a circuit judgeship is waging a legal battle to try to remain eligible in the race.

Steve D. Hurt has filed a lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court in Frankfort, contending that a 2013 law that would make him ineligible to run against Williams violates Hurt's state and U.S. constitutional rights.

It is the second lawsuit filed concerning legislation that seems to prevent some senior judges from running for judicial seats.

Senior judges receive temporary, short-term assignments for the state's court system. The program is for judges whose age and years of service on the bench upon retirement equal or exceed 75. They do not receive a salary but get an enhanced retirement benefit.

Neither Hurt nor his attorney, Jim Deckard of Lexington, could be reached for comment about their lawsuit to keep Hurt eligible this year as a candidate for circuit judge.

Williams, who left the state legislature in October 2012 after he was appointment to the judgeship by Gov. Steve Beshear, said he had no comment on Hurt's lawsuit.

Hurt and Williams are the only two candidates in that race. If Hurt is not eligible, Williams would have no opponent

The State Board of Elections, which oversees state elections and is listed as a defendant in the Hurt lawsuit, also had no comment about the suit, said its spokesperson, Lynn Zellen.

"We received the complaint and are reviewing it," she said.

Hurt, a district judge from January 1986 to January 2009, filed on Jan. 28 to run against Williams in the 40th Judicial Circuit in the nonpartisan race. The circuit covers Cumberland, Monroe and Clinton counties.

On Feb. 1, 2009, Hurt began service in the senior status program for special judges. He said he completed his obligation — 600 days — as a senior judge on Dec. 18.

His lawsuit questions the law, which says senior judges who retire shall not become a candidate or a nominee for any elected office during a five-year period as outlined in state law, "regardless of the number of days served by the judge acting as a senior status special judge."

Hurt contends the law is unconstitutional because it "places qualifications that are in addition to and inconsistent with the requirements of" the Kentucky Constitution."

Former senior judge Marc I. Rosen, who is seeking a judicial seat in Boyd County, has filed a similar suit. Rosen has filed to run this year against incumbent George W. Davis III in the 32nd Judicial Circuit.

State Rep. Kevin Sinnette, D-Ashland, proposed the law last year regarding senior judges.

Sinnette said it was a way to "clean up the language" in the statute governing senior judges and to prevent judges from double dipping, or drawing a paycheck and a retirement check at the same time.

"It was all done above board, and it was all about saving the state money," Sinnette said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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