By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
Nearly a year after Kentucky lawmakers tried to pass a legislative re-districting plan that was subsequently ruled unconstitutional, they will now have to pony up more than $200,000 in taxpayer money to pay for all the attorneys who argued the case in court.
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ordered the General Assembly on Thursday to pay the attorney fees for a group of House Republicans and a Democratic state Senator who successfully argued the original plan was unconstitutional.
Shepherd ordered the Legislative Research Commission to pay $112,375 for attorney fees for the House Republicans and $74,480.51 for attorney fees for Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington. The LRC has already paid Louisville attorney Sheryl Snyder more than $19,000 to defend the re-districting plan on its behalf.
Shepherd’s ruling allows the LRC 30 days to appeal.
LRC Director Bobby Sherman said he plans to talk to LRC leaders to determine the next step.
“As of today, we’ve got a final and appealable order. The question becomes do you pay it or appeal it,” Sherman said. “We’ve got 30 days to react and I will talk to the LRC leaders as to what to do.”
The LRC is made up of leaders of both parties from each chamber and is co-chaired by the Speaker of the House, Democrat Greg Stumbo, and Senate President. But since attorneys for the plaintiffs filed the motion for payment of their attorney fees, Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, resigned to accept a position as a circuit judge.
Senate President Pro Tem Katie Kratz Stein, R-Southgate, is serving as the interim LRC co-chair until Senate Republicans choose a new president later this month. Sherman said no meeting date has been set for the LRC at this time.
During the 2012 General Assembly, majority lawmakers in each chamber – Democrats in the House and Republicans in the Senate — drew new legislative maps which protected majority incumbents.
The Democratic majority in the House drew a map that placed several House Republican incumbents in the same districts, forcing them to run against each other in primaries, and split 28 counties. The Senate map put two Democrats in the same district and re-numbered Stein’s to make her ineligible to run for re-election this year. Both maps had at least one district which exceeded a previous court standard that no district vary by more than plus or minus 5 percent from the ideal population size for districts.
House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, Rep. Joe Fischer, Rep. Kim King and two private citizens, Anthony Gados of Vanceburg and Frey Todd of Eubank, challenged the constitutionality of the plan. Later, Stein was allowed to intervene in the case.
Originally, Hoover said the plaintiffs would raise the money privately to pay their costs. Shepherd ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, including Stein, and his ruling was later upheld by the Kentucky Supreme Court. (The November election was conducted under the old maps drawn after the 2000 Census.)
Hoover said when the LRC appealed the original ruling, the additional costs exceeded what the plaintiffs thought they could raise in private funds and when their attorneys advised they were entitled to have those fees paid by the LRC, the Republicans filed a motion in Shepherd’s court seeking payment of their attorney costs.
Shepherd subsequently ruled the plaintiffs are entitled to have their attorney fees paid by the LRC and ordered attorneys to negotiate that amount.
But the two sides were unable to reach an agreement and so Shepherd Thursday ordered the LRC to pay the amounts sought by the Republicans and Stein.
Stein said Thursday she was “very happy” with the ruling, especially for the law firm who represented her challenge to the original plan.
She said it would have taken her time to pay the bill had Shepherd not ruled as he did.
John David Dyche, one of the attorneys who represented the Republicans, declined comment on Shepherd’s ruling and directed questions to Hoover.
CNHI left a request with the office of Hoover seeking comment. But as of press time, he had not responded.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.