Embattled Louisville Metro Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin, D-2, will face an ethics hearing.
The city Ethics Commission voted unanimously on Wednesday to hold a trial-like proceeding on October 25 in response to a complaint filed by a state watchdog group.
It took the panel over an hour in private session to rule that it will hold a hearing to determine if the city lawmaker violated six separate provisions of the city’s code of ethics. Common Cause of Kentucky filed charges last month claiming that Shanklin used her office to benefit herself and her relatives.
Attorney Aubrey Williams is representing Shanklin in the case and objected to the commission deliberating in secret. He says the ethics panel has failed to properly explain its procedures, and is denying his client due process.
“In a court of justice—unless this is something other than that—when one party makes allegations, the court of justice allows the parties to debate and argue those questions,” he says. “Why it is that the commission cannot allow argument and make rulings openly on those motions without going into executive session makes no sense.”
Williams also argues the case is frivolous in large part because Common Cause failed to file a proper complaint because it contains no information other than a series of reports from The Courier-Journal covering her controversies.
It has been reported that at least $14,000 in taxpayer dollars went to several of Shanklin’s relatives through the Petersburg-Newburg Improvement Association. Shanklin personally checks to pay relatives for catering, lawn services and renovations.
Those news reports have raised serious questions about Shanklin’s decision-making and use of taxpayer dollars, but she has denied any wrongdoing.
Shanklin is currently the subject of an internal audit and Metro Police investigation to determine if any civil or criminal violations were committed surrounding an upholstery program for ex-offenders in her district. The program was funded by the city, but had few ex-convicts referred to it while the councilwoman and her family members did participate.
Common Cause Chairman Richard Beliles says he is pleased with the decision to prosecute the case. He admits that media reports are not legal documents, but adds the commission is not a court of law.
“Usually newspaper articles are not admissible,” he says. “They’re usually considered hearsay, but not in this sort of case. The important thing is that I’m in my complaint I’m just giving notice to Barbara Shanklin for her to respond.”
Beliles says nothing in the ethics ordinance says that those who file complaints must have personal knowledge of the documents involved.
“There are just too many facts to include and for me to specify that exactly,” he says.
In a motion to dismiss the charges, Williams argued the newspaper was using Common Cause to prosecute the case, citing several editorials it had written calling on citizens to file a complaint against Shanklin.
“As much as I admire and support the fourth estate, we do not try cases in the fourth estate. We try cases in this country in a duly called and organized judicial forum,” says Williams.
The commission has schedule a preliminary hearing for August 28 to appoint a judge and prosecutor.