Jefferson County Judge-Executive Bryan Mathews resigned Thursday after two legal opinions said it was a conflict of interest for him to also work as a Louisville Metro Council aide.
The question surrounding Mathews’ roles came up when he began working as a legislative assistant for Democratic Councilman Dan Johnson on June 2.
Mathews, who had been judge-executive for three years, initially argued that no conflict existed because his elected county office was stripped of its powers when the city and county governments merged in 2003.
In a June 5 opinion, however, County Attorney Mike O’Connell’s office said it remains a violation of the state Constitution to simultaneously hold jobs as council aide and judge-executive, even if the latter position is powerless.
“While the Jefferson County judge-executive does not currently have any duties or responsibilities the Metro Council could assign duties through creation of an ordinance and subsequently provide a salary,” the opinion said.
Read the Jefferson County attorney’s opinion:
Soon after O’Connell’s letter was sent, Johnson refused to share its contents at the request of reporters and his constituents.
A week after the county attorney’s office made its decision, Johnson sought an additional review by Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine’s office.
In Wine’s legal opinion, which was issued July 31, he agreed with the county attorney’s findings. The Louisville prosecutor also explained Mathews faced ouster if he did not vacate the judge-executive position.
Attorney James Craig, who represents Mathews, said his client disagreed with the two opinions but decided against fighting them in court.
“Bryan has too much respect for Councilman Johnson, the Metro Council, Mr. Wine, Mr. O’Connell and the voters that elected him to press this matter any further,” said Craig.
“He has therefore made the very difficult decision to resign as judge-executive, and thanks Mr. Wine and Mr. O’Connell for their guidance. Bryan is taking this action with a heavy heart.”
Mathews faxed his letter of resignation to Governor Steve Beshear’s office Thursday afternoon. The position is on the ballot this year, and the state has not announced when a special election would be held for the vacated Jefferson County judge-executive office.
Since his hiring in Johnson’s office, Mathews has been embroiled in political controversy at City Hall.
In June, WFPL reported Mathews was fired from his previous employer for allegedly using a racial slur.
Mathews has denied those allegations, but a handful of African-American lawmakers voiced concern about working alongside him.
Last month, council Democrats reprimanded Mathews for breaking caucus rules against publicly making disparaging remarks about a council member.
Johnson has stood by Mathews, and said his top aide has been an asset to the office.
“I respect Bryan’s decision to resign as judge-executive and look forward to his continued employment serving the needs and constituents of District 21,” Johnson said in a released statement. “I felt like I needed a new energy in the position of legislative assistant. Bryan presented an aggressive plan to meet my expectations.”
Mathews earns about $50,000 per year as Johnson’s aide.