Daniel Cameron, the Republican nominee for Kentucky attorney general, won a lawsuit Thursday that challenged his eligibility to serve if he is elected Nov. 5 because of his limited years of experience. An appeal is expected.
The suit, filed in Jefferson Circuit Court by retired union worker Joseph Leon Jackson Sr., alleged that Cameron lacked the eight years as a practicing attorney required by the Kentucky Constitution. Cameron, 33, was licensed to practice law in October 2011, eight years ago, but he spent the next two years as a clerk to U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove in Frankfort and London.
Federal law clerks are prohibited by their ethics rules from practicing law while they serve their judges, Jackson said in his lawsuit.
However, in his decision, Jefferson Circuit Judge Barry Willett said Kentucky courts consider the practice of law to mean a licensed attorney who offers legal counsel, a definition that would include Cameron while he worked as a clerk. In 1995, courts made a similar ruling in favor of Democrat Ben Chandler, then running for attorney general, and allowed him to count his four years as state auditor toward his eight required years as a practicing attorney, Willett said.
Cameron’s name should remain on the statewide ballot for voters to choose, the judge said.
“Courts in Kentucky have long been cautious in applying eligibility requirements to candidates for public office,” Willett wrote in his decision. “They have held that restrictions in statutes or constitutions imposing restrictions upon the right of a person to hold office should receive a liberal construction in favor of his (or her) eligibility.”
Jackson filed his lawsuit Sept. 17, “one day after the deadline for printing ballots for the general election had expired,” Willett added. Had Jackson prevailed, there would not have been a Republican candidate for attorney general on Nov. 5.
Cameron celebrated the ruling and criticized his Democratic opponent, Greg Stumbo, a former attorney general and Kentucky House speaker, for trying to “cheat us off the ballot.” Cameron said he believes Stumbo was involved with the suit, a charge that Stumbo has denied.
“We were obviously happy to see the result today. We weren’t surprised by it,” Cameron said in an interview. “We were very confident that the decision that was going to be rendered was going to be in our favor. And most of that was based on the fact that this had essentially been litigated in 1995 when Ben Chandler was running for attorney general.”
Jackson will appeal Thursday’s decision, directly to the Kentucky Supreme Court if possible because there are only a few weeks left until the election and there isn’t time for the usual appeals process, said David O’Brien Suetholz, one of Jackson’s attorneys.
“We’re definitely appealing,” Suetholz said. “We are reviewing the order and we are disappointed in the ruling. It appears the decision ignored some of the key facts admitted by Daniel Cameron on the stand.”
In his own interview, Stumbo said his knowledge of the case is limited to news coverage, but Cameron’s eligibility is a critical question that must be resolved.
“It will get up to the Supreme Court, and it needs to, quite frankly, because if he were to win and if he were to then be declared constitutionally unqualified to hold the office, every official act that he did would be subject to review,” Stumbo said. “That’s every criminal appeal that’s taken in the state of Kentucky, that’s Medicaid fraud cases, that’s rate intervention cases, that’s all the things that the attorney general’s office does.”
After his clerkship from 2011 to 2013, 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.