Politics & Government

Lawsuit seeks to remove GOP attorney general nominee Daniel Cameron from KY ballot

A new lawsuit seeks to have Republican attorney general nominee Daniel Cameron’s name removed from the Nov. 5 election ballot, arguing that he lacks the eight years of experience as a “practicing attorney” required for the office by Kentucky’s constitution.

The Kentucky Bar Association admitted Cameron on Oct. 21, 2011, which means the election will be held eight years after he was licensed to begin practicing law. But Cameron, who is 33, spent the next two years serving as a clerk for U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove in Frankfort and London.

Judicial clerks may not practice law during their clerkships, as explained to them in their formal ethics guidelines, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Jefferson Circuit Court by Joseph Leon Jackson Sr. of Louisville. Also, Jackson alleges, Kentucky courts define the practice of law as using legal knowledge to represent the needs of a client, which Cameron did not do while assisting a judge.

“A federal judicial clerkship cannot reasonably be considered the ‘practice of law’ as defined by the Kentucky Supreme Court because it does not involve any legal service to ‘one requiring the services,’ as there is no client involved in federal judicial clerkships,” Jackson alleges. “The practice of law while a federal judicial clerk is generally not permitted under the applicable ethical guidelines.”

Jackson, a retired union worker in Jefferson County, referred questions about his suit on Tuesday to his attorney, Benjamin A. Gastel of the Nashville-based firm of Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings. The lawyer described Jackson as a “concerned citizen.”

“It is critical to the rule of law in the commonwealth that only constitutionally qualified candidates for elected office appear on the ballot,” Gastel said.

“Given Mr. Cameron’s short career, it does not appear he meets the constitutional qualification that he be a ‘practicing lawyer’ for at least eight years,” Gastel said. “Our intent is to have this case heard before the election so that voters can be sure they cast ballots only for candidates that are actually qualified to represent the commonwealth as its chief attorney.”

The court likely will schedule a hearing in the case in the near future, Gastel added.

“Time is of the essence,” Jackson says in his suit. “The deadline by which the program administrators were required to have provided templates for ballots to county clerk was Sept. 13, 2019. Ballots are required to have been printed 50 days prior to a general election, or Sept. 16, 2019.”

Cameron’s opponent, Democrat Greg Stumbo, a former attorney general and Kentucky House speaker, frequently argues on the campaign trail that Cameron is too inexperienced to serve as the state’s top law enforcement officer.

A similar challenge was raised in the 1995 race for attorney general. Back then, Republican Will T. Scott sued over the legal qualifications of Democratic opponent Ben Chandler, arguing that four of Chandler’s nine years as a licensed attorney had been spent as the elected state auditor, not working as a lawyer. But a Franklin Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of Chandler, finding that it was enough that he had been admitted by the bar in 1986. Chandler defeated Scott in the election two months later.

In a prepared statement, Cameron referenced the 1995 court decision and said Jackson’s lawsuit was orchestrated by Stumbo.

Stumbo “had an out-of-state law firm claim that Cameron — a young, supremely qualified black attorney — should not be on the ballot. It’s a farce, and Stumbo’s a fool for wasting everyone’s time,” Cameron said.

“The only way Stumbo can win is through corruption and he knows it,” Cameron said. “That’s how he’s operated in the past, and his sad, old-school bullying attempt will not work on Daniel Cameron. Cameron is more than qualified to serve legally — remember, this is 2019, not 1819 — we will not let an old white career politician cheat a young qualified black attorney out of a fair election.”

Jackson’s lawsuit names Cameron, the secretary of state’s office and the Kentucky Board of Elections as defendants. If successful, it could leave the Republican Party of Kentucky scrambling to find a replacement for Cameron on the ballot. Even if Jackson doesn’t prevail in court, the suit focuses attention on Cameron’s relatively short legal career to date.

After his clerkship, Cameron worked as legal counsel for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in Washington, and then moved to Louisville in 2017 to establish himself as a lawyer/lobbyist at the firm of Frost Brown Todd.

With the backing of McConnell’s large network of supporters, including big spending by an outside group affiliated with McConnell, Cameron defeated state Sen. Wil Schroder in the GOP primary for attorney general in May.

It wouldn’t be unprecedented for a lawsuit to bump a candidate for statewide office off the ballot.

In 2003, former McConnell chief of staff and campaign manager Hunter Bates ran for lieutenant governor on the Republican ballot with then-Congressman Ernie Fletcher in the top spot. But another Republican candidate sued during the GOP primary, arguing that Bates failed to meet the constitutional residency requirements since he had been living in Washington instead of Kentucky. A judge ruled against Bates, who then dropped out.

Fletcher replaced Bates with former U.S. Attorney Steve Pence and won the primary and general election. Bates went on to a lucrative career as a Washington lobbyist, successfully using his connections to McConnell’s office.