The Kentucky Attorney General’s office has appointed a special prosecutor to determine whether Councilman David James’ simultaneous job as a University of Louisville police officer is unconstitutional.
Commonwealth Attorney Laura Witt Donnell is the prosecutor in Shelby, Spencer, and Anderson counties. She will make a ruling on the case, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Jack Conway’s office confirmed.
Attorney Todd Lewis, who is representing James, says Donnell is a respected attorney. But Lewis is upset that he didn’t learn about her appointment until WFPL called seeking comment.
“We have received no notification whatsoever from any of these agencies,” he says. “Apparently the heads of these government agencies see fit to play this in the media before they’ve even notified the individual involved.”
The legal controversy over James’ employment has been lobbed back and forth between local and state prosecutors for months. At its core, it questions whether James can serve as a council member and UofL cop—two constitutionally sworn positions.
In a Feb. 26 memo, Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell said that James is violating the Kentucky Constitution and must either resign from his seat or quit his job.
At least three other council members have taken similar oaths compared to the ones James is being scrutinized over. An O’Connell spokesman has said the sworn oaths taken by practicing attorneys who serve on the council do not apply to their legal opinion.
James and his attorney have argued from the outset the case is politically motivated in part because the councilman is endorsing O’Connell’s primary opponent.
The case was originally sent to Conway’s office for a legal opinion, but the attorney general punted the matter to Jefferson Commonwealth Attorney Thomas Wine’s office.
But Wine said the matter was not within his jurisdiction and sent it back to Conway’s office. However, in a March 21 letter, Wine indicated he believed James is holding two incompatible positions under state law.
Lewis says the lack of correspondence with James about naming a special prosecutor demonstrates how the case has been mishandled since the beginning.
“It’s a matter of simple courtesy,” he says. “It is absolutely indicative of how the case has been handled and is indicative, again, of motives, which I’m afraid have not been fully shared with Ms. Donnell in this process.”
Donnell could not be reached for comment.