Commonwealth’s Attorney Thomas Wine is returning a controversial case involving Louisville Metro Councilman David James’ potential jobs conflict to the Kentucky attorney general’s office.
Earlier this month, Attorney General Jack Conway sent a letter to Wine saying “ouster authority for county offices” fell within the Louisville prosecutor’s jurisdiction.
In a March 21 letter, however, Wine tells Conway they do not have jurisdiction in what remains a civil matter.
“I believe there are several grounds, both legal and ethical that prohibit our office from pursuing this action,” says Wine.
This legal question was started by Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell, who argued in a memo to council members last month that James has violated the Kentucky Constitution by taking conflicting oaths.
James is a council member and a major with the University of Louisville police department.
O’Connell has said the situation would be resolved if James relinquished either position, but advised that the councilman be barred from voting until a decision was made.
In his letter, Wine says he does believe the facts support James is a “usurper” in a state office, but that neither O’Connell nor Conway have made that argument clear in their legal correspondence.
“The Office of the Attorney General has previously opined that a university safety and security officer is a state office and hence incompatible with any city or county office,” says Wine.
“Interestingly, neither your letter, nor County Attorney O’Connell’s letter confirm there is an incompatibility between the offices held by Councilman James. If there is no incompatibility, the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney is without jurisdiction to pursue a civil remedy.”
Read Wine’s letter below:
“We are reviewing the letter and disagree with several assertions made in the letter and will be communicating those to the Commonwealth’s Attorney,” says Allison Martin, a spokeswoman in Conway’s office.
Attorney Todd Lewis, who is representing James, says he also disagrees with part of Wine’s assessment regarding whether his client’s jobs do conflict. But Lewis tells WFPL he appreciates the commonwealth’s attorney for taking a careful look at the question and its proper jurisdiction.
“We think it is okay to be a UofL police officer and a Metro councilman,” he says. “We believe there is a voluminous amount of research that shows us these are not incompatible positions.”
Besides the issue of James’ compatibility, there is a question of which office he would have to give up.
The state law O’Connell and others have cited says that if a person does hold two sworn positions that the individual must vacate the first office.
James began working as UofL officer in 2008 and was first elected to the council in 2010.
Conway’s initial letter, however, argued that James took a new office each time he was promoted through the campus police ranks where he has been a major since last September. If James is found to be holding two public offices then under state law he would be ousted from his council seat, according to that rationale.
But Wine’s letter makes clear that James took the job as a police officer before joining the council, and that those promotions do not constitute difference offices.
From the outset James has alleged the entire case is politically motivated for supporting O’Connell’s primary opponent. O’Connell has denied those accusations, but James’ attorney says targeting the council seat and his votes over the police job is proof that this case is about retribution.
“What (Commonwealth’s Attorney) Wine very accurately points out is why have others been so eager to discuss which job is under threat when no one has answered the first question, which is, is there anything incompatible between these jobs,” says Lewis. “Does that speak to the motives of folks involved? I will let the record speak for itself at this point.”