By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — A judge said he will rule by the end of business Tuesday on the House Republicans’ request for a temporary injunction to delay Tuesday’s filing deadline for state legislative candidates.
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd also allowed Sen. Kathy Stein, a Democrat whose Lexington district was moved to northeastern Kentucky, and several Fayette County residents to intervene as plaintiffs in the GOP lawsuit. The suit challenges the constitutionality of newly-drawn legislative districts that Gov. Steve Beshear signed into law earlier this month.
After a hearing of more than two hours Monday, Shepherd said he wanted to review the records before ruling.
If the court does grant the injunction, Shepherd said, it would be temporary and he would set hearings on the issue within a week to 10 days.
The suit affects all of House Bill 1, which also redrew boundaries for state Senate and Supreme Court districts.
House Republicans claim it is unconstitutional because it divides more counties into separate districts than necessary. The House plan split 28 counties and 246 precincts, although only 22 counties have populations that exceed the roughly 43,000 people that each district must contain. A GOP proposal would have split 24 counties and 10 precincts.
Lynn Sowards Zellen, director of communications for Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, said the filing deadline will remain at 4 p.m. Tuesday unless the judge says differently.
House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said he was “very pleased” with Monday’s hearing. “I feel real good about the position we have put forward,” he said.
He said potential legislative candidates who still haven’t filed to seek election should “pay close attention to what is going on.”
Scott White, a Lexington attorney representing Stein and four others, said “we will all be on pins and needles” waiting for Shepherd’s ruling.
Shepherd allowed three Lexington residents — Dr. David B. Stevens, Jack Stevenson and Marcus McGraw — and David O’Neill, who was chairman of the Fayette County Democratic Party at the time of Stein’s election, to intervene in the suit as plaintiffs.
The judge also allowed the top three House Democratic leaders — Speaker Greg Stumbo, Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark and Majority Leader Rocky Adkins — to intervene as defendants.
Attorney Pierce Whites, who was representing Stumbo, said the three leaders probably will step aside and let the Legislative Research Commission intervene on their behalf.
In arguing for House Republicans, attorney Victor Maddox said Kentucky courts have a history of granting injunctions to delay filing deadlines for candidates.
He also claimed the House redistricting plan has one district that exceeds the 5 percent population variance allowed and has some districts which are oddly drawn.
He mentioned “the Pulaski strip” and “the Laurel County zigzag.” A slender slice of Pulaski County is used to connect a district that spans from Casey County to northern Madison County. Similarly, Jackson County and McCreary County are connected in the 89th district by a jagged strip of land that bisects Laurel County.
David Tachau, attorney for Secretary of State Lundergan Grimes, said she wants to be sure the process of redistricting is done properly and neither attacks nor defends the House map.
He questioned whether the House Republicans had shown that irreparable harm would occur if the filing deadline remains intact. Whites also argued that redistricting has done no irreparable harm.
But Maddox said too many split counties has disenfranchised voters in those areas.
White, Stein’s attorney, said the senator takes no position on the House redistricting plan but questions the Senate’s decision to move her 13th District in inner Lexington to northeastern Kentucky and replace it with the 4th District, represented by Sen. Dorsey Ridley, D-Henderson.
“Redistricting is a political process but it must have limitations,” White said.
The state Democratic-controlled House and Republican-led Senate are still working on new boundaries for Kentucky’s six congressional districts.
The House approved a version of House Bill 2 on Monday that would move the filing deadline for congressional races to Feb. 7. The Senate approved the measure last week.
Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he met with Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, on Monday and was told that the Senate is working on a counter-proposal for the House to review.
“I haven’t seen the map. But I think there is enough indication that we may be able to formulate a plan over the next couple of days,” Stumbo said.
Stumbo said if they are not able to reach a consensus by Feb. 7, then the two sides will not be able to get an agreement and the plan will be hashed out in court.