Louisville Metro Councilman David James claims a legal opinion saying he should not cast a vote until he quits his police job is political retribution.
The Democratic lawmaker also says he plans to vote at Thursday’s meeting despite a suggestion he cannot.
Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell issued a memo to council members on Wednesday, citing a section of Kentucky Constitution that he says forbids James from sitting on the council while being a U of L police officer.
O’Connell argues that James is ineligible to serve because he has taken conflicting oaths of office and said he would “take some action” unless the councilman resigned or quit his job in the next 30-40 days.
James says he believes this is political payback for supporting O’Connell’s opponent, attorney Karen Faulkner, in the primary election.
“I’m highly suspicious that it boils down to politics,” he says. “It smells a lot like it but I would like to think better of our county attorney. But when I look at some of the things that he’s been involved in it causes me to have some questions.”
O’Connell says James’ allegation of political payback is “dead wrong.”
“This is part of my responsibility as the county attorney and as the attorney for Metro Council and the people of this community, that this matter was addressed,” says O’Connell.
O’Connell’s office says the origins of the opinion came from requests by two Metro Police officers, who asked the county attorney for advice on seeking office in Oldham County.
According to an O’Connell spokeswoman, in the first instance, an officer received an opinion via telephone from their office. The other officer received a communication via e-mail through a commanding officer.
O’Connell told WFPL this is the first time a legal question surrounding conflicting oaths of office has come up during his tenure, but it isn’t the first time the county attorney’s office has addressed the issue.
Over a decade ago, Jefferson County resident William Fields was elected as Justice of the Peace while also serving as an officer with the Louisville International Airport Police, and also as the elected property owner for the Camp Taylor Fire Protection District.
In a legal opinion issued by former Jefferson County Attorney Irv Maze’s office in November 2003, Fields was advised those two positions were not in conflict with his elective office.
O’Connell told WFPL he was not familiar with Maze’s 2003 opinion, but he argued the facts in Field’s situation are not the same as in the James case.
Under section 165 of the Kentucky Constitution no person shall “be a state officer or a deputy officer or member of the General Assembly, and an officer of any county, city, town, or other municipality.”
The state law also forbids a person from filling two city offices simultaneously, but Maze’s opinion specifically says a Kentucky Attorney General opinion allows for “the appointment” to certain boards. In the 2003 legal opinion, Fields was told there “is no difference between appointment to the airport board and appointment to the airport police.”
James is seeking legal advice to get the situation resolved, but says he’ll conduct business as usual at Thursday’s council meeting.
“The county attorney doesn’t have the authority to tell an elected official he can’t carry out his duties that he is sworn to do, which would be voting at Metro Council meetings and representing the constituency that’s elected to put me there,” he says. “So I plan on going there to vote.”