Cameron seeks another ‘random’ change of venue, this time in challenge brought by teachers union

KEA says it’s suffering ‘irreparable harm’ while AG employs delaying strategy

By: - May 9, 2023 4:46 pm

Kentucky Education Association Executive Director Mary Ruble testified at a May 1 hearing in Franklin Circuit Court.(Kentucky Lantern photo by Liam Niemeyer)

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron has again invoked a new state law that allows him to move some lawsuits to another circuit court chosen at random.

Cameron is seeking to move the Kentucky Education Association’s challenge of another new law — one making it harder for the teachers union to collect dues — out of Franklin Circuit Court, where the KEA challenged the law’s constitutionality. 

The KEA has asked Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd for a temporary injunction to block the law while the constitutional questions are litigated. The challenged law bans some public employee unions from collecting dues by payroll deductions.

The KEA filed the lawsuit April 17. Shepherd held a hearing on arguments for and against a temporary injunction May 1.

Cameron filed the notice of transfer on Monday in Franklin Circuit Court as a defendant in KEA’s lawsuit. 

Lawyers for KEA immediately opposed the transfer, saying Cameron was trying to delay a ruling on the injunction request, while the teachers union continues to suffer “irreparable harm.”

“The Attorney General made an apparent strategic calculation to withhold the Notice of Transfer until after the hearing on the Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Temporary Injunction and after briefing of the Motion was complete,” the KEA’s filing states. 

“If the Court were to transfer the case before the Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Temporary Injunction is decided, it may lead to significant additional delays, during which Plaintiffs will continue to suffer irreparable harm.”

The new law invoked by Cameron was enacted by the Republican-controlled legislature over Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto.

It allows lawsuit participants and the attorney general, as an intervening defendant, in any challenge of a state law or decision to have the lawsuit moved to another circuit court in any of the state’s 120 counties. The clerk of the Supreme Court is charged with randomly selecting a circuit court where the case would be moved, potentially sending it hundreds of miles to a new courtroom. 

The law appears to have no limit on how many times lawsuit participants or the attorney general can have a case randomly moved.

A spokesperson for Cameron’s office did not immediately respond to questions about why the attorney general filed the change of venue directive. 

This is at least the second time Cameron has invoked the randomized change of venue law, something that KEA referenced in its filing. In the first instance in a lawsuit also before Shepherd, the Franklin circuit judge has asked the Kentucky Supreme Court to weigh in on the constitutionality of Senate Bill 126, the change of venue law.

Cameron sought a random venue change in a lawsuit challenging a ban on what plaintiffs call “skill-based” gaming machines, often found in gas stations and convenience stores. The plaintiffs in that case have opposed the change of venue directive, saying the law is unconstitutional because of its arbitrary nature and that it encroaches on the powers of the state’s judicial branch. 

Shepherd, in asking the state Supreme Court to weigh in on the law, said it “imposes by legislative fiat” a venue change and that it could be used to “avoid a fair and impartial judge, rather than to avoid a biased one.” 

Deputy Attorney General Vic Maddox in that case argued for the change of venue law, saying it allows lawsuit participants to avoid biased judges by directing a court case be moved. 

Cameron’s spokesperson also did not immediately respond to a question asking if he had concerns Shepherd was biased against defendants in the lawsuit involving KEA.

Shepherd has been the target of past GOP criticism, and state Senate President Robert Stivers raised funds for Shepherd’s  unsuccessful challenger last year in an expensive judicial election. 

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Liam Niemeyer
Liam Niemeyer

Liam covers government and policy in Kentucky and its impacts throughout the Commonwealth for the Kentucky Lantern. He most recently spent four years reporting award-winning stories for WKMS Public Radio in Murray.