March 28, 2014 – By Senior Editor Stan Billingsley

Cumberland Circuit Court Candidate Steve Hurt served as a district judge from 1986 to 2009, when he retired from the judiciary after serving five years as a Senior Status Special Judge. HB 427 purports to disqualify him as a candidate.

An order of the Franklin Circuit Court Order was issued in case number 14-CI-152, Hurt v State Board of Elections.

Steve Hurt has sought a declaratory judgment, a summary judgment and injunctive relief to challenge House Bill 427 enacted by the Legislature in 2013. This bill is codified in KRS 118A.
The statute provides:

“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.”

Hurt’s motions have been granted and the motion of the Board of Elections was denied. The Franklin Circuit Court found that Hurt had completed his five year term of service as Senior Judge and was eligible to be a candidate for Circuit Judge.

The court ruled:
“This motion challenges the constitutionality of HB 427 on the grounds that the qualifications for election to the office of Circuit Judge are established in Section 122 of the Kentucky constitution, and the General Assembly has no power to add to, or subtract from, the qualifications for that office set by constitutional mandate.”
“The plaintiff (Hurt) has filed as a candidate for the office of Circuit Judge, but is confronted with the situation that HB 427 raises a question as to his eligibility to be a candidate. The Secretary of State and the Board of Elections have accepted his candidacy papers, and his name will appear on the ballot absent a successful challenge to his qualifications under KRS 18.176 by a “qualified voter” of “opposing candidate. Under the law governing such challenges, an action challenging his “bona fides” as a candidate “may be commenced at any time prior to the regular election.” KRS 118.176(2). Thus absent some form of judicial relief, the plaintiff will be forced to undergo an entire election campaign with the cloud of HB 427 hanging over his candidacy.”(See Stephenson v. Woodward, 182 S.W.3rd 162 (Ky 2005).”

“The plaintiff has a right to obtain a ruling that will “eliminate” or minimize the risk of wrong action” regarding his eligibility to be a candidate for Circuit Judge. “
“The Commonwealth, in its response filed March 20, 2014, seems to agree with the plaintiff on this point. “
“The Commonwealth further argues that it does not have reason to dispute their authenticity.”
“C. House Bill 417 attempts to alter the constitutional qualifications for candidacy for judicial offices, and thus is unconstitutional.”
“…this prohibition against judicial candidacy for Senior Judges is flatly inconsistent with Section 122 of the Kentucky Constitution.”
“The court in Broughton recognized that the legislature has the right to regulate elections, but held that such regulation could not include disqualification of a candidate who meets all qualifications set forth in the constitution.”

“The Commonwealth suggests that the purpose of HB 427 may be to prevent “double dipping” so that judges who draw an enhanced retirement benefit from their service as Senior Judges will be precluded from “drawing a paycheck” in addition to their enhanced retirement benefits….while this may be a salutary purpose, the legislature may not achieve it through an unconstitutional method. Prohibiting a person, who meets all constitutional qualifications for an office established by the Constitution, from becoming a candidate for that office, is an unconstitutional means to achieve this goal.”

“The General Assembly has no power to add to, or subtract from , the qualifications for that office established in the constitution., and HB 427 has the purpose and effect of altering the constitutional qualifications for election. As such it is void.”

The Franklin Circuit Court ruled was entered by Judge Phillip J. Shepherd.

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