Metro Council candidate Courtney Phelps is facing legal challenges ahead of the Democratic primary in May, when he will be facing David James, the nine-year incumbent who is currently serving his third term as Council president.
Phelps is facing a lawsuit by James challenging his eligibility for office, and is under a temporary restraining order for allegedly harassing a woman over social media. James represents District 6, and Phelps is the only Democrat challenging him in the May 2020 primary.
The lawsuit, filed by James in Jefferson Circuit Court, claims that Phelps does not live at the address listed on his election filing, and that he falsified the required witness signatures.
Phelps could not be reached via phone and email for comment. James declined to comment, deferring to his lawyer and campaign treasurer Todd Lewis.
Incumbent Files Lawsuit Over Phelps’ Filing
Lewis said Friday that the James campaign believed Phelps had falsified his campaign paperwork. He said he felt political candidates have a duty to inform the public about their competitors’ alleged wrongdoing.
“I think David thinks of it as an important part of being a public servant, because it’s serious and it’s inappropriate,” Lewis said. “It is harmful to the voters and the 6th District, it’s harmful to any voter in Jefferson County that somebody … will potentially get on an election ballot after engaging in this kind of misconduct.”
Kentucky statute requires candidates to provide their residence address as well as the signatures of two registered voters of the same party and district on a form that is to be notarized and under oath.
The address on Phelps’ notification and declaration form is 1115 Garvin Place, the site of the New Legacy Reentry Corp, a residential reentry program for male ex-offenders in the 6th District. Although Phelps wasn’t enrolled in the residential reentry program, New Legacy executive director Gisela Nelson said she had let him live there for about four months in late 2019. Nelson said she asked him to leave on Dec. 22 because he was allowing an unauthorized person to stay overnight.
“It endangered the people in our program, as well as the people who leased space from us, as well as everybody else,” Nelson said.
Phelps filed to run for Metro Council on Jan. 10, nearly two weeks after Nelson said he stopped living at New Legacy.
He also listed Deandrae Hughes, a resident at New Legacy, as a registered voter whose signature indicated he believed Phelps was qualified for the District 6 seat. James’ complaint, which was provided to WFPL News by Lewis, alleges that Hughes’ statement and signature, as well as that of another supposed voter, were falsified.
Hughes confirmed to WFPL News on Friday that he did not sign the form, and that Phelps did not ask him to. He said he had not seen Phelps for about a month.
He said he did not believe Phelps was qualified for office.
“I definitely was not going to falsely endorse,” Hughes said. “I just don’t believe in supporting something that I know you’re not ready for.”
WFPL News could not reach the other person listed on the form, which was also provided by Lewis.
James is trying to remove Phelps as a candidate and prevent his name from appearing on the ballot for the primary election on May 19.
According to Lewis, James feels that Phelps’ behavior “deserves to be attacked and appropriately litigated, really on behalf of all the voters of his district, because we’re not talking about a minor difference in qualifications, we’re talking about a series of very serious actions which disregarded the law governing elections.”
Phelps responded to the lawsuit on Facebook in recent days with a number of posts criticizing James, a former police officer, and suggesting the lawsuit was politically motivated.
Temporary Restraining Order For Social Media Posts
The James lawsuit came less than a week after a woman who rents work space at New Legacy took out a temporary interpersonal protective order against Phelps, alleging that he stalked and harassed her through social media. She claimed that in a since-deleted Facebook post, he threatened her life.
Chea K. Woolfolk, a media personality and member of New Legacy’s board, declined to comment for this story, citing safety concerns.
“I am afraid of him and what he is capable of doing,” she wrote in the petition to the court on Jan. 24. “He stalks me through social media constantly.”
On Facebook, Phelps has at least four active pages, where he posts multiple times a day. He is presenting himself to voters as a reverend and lawyer. According to a former professor, Phelps attended law school at the University of Louisville. He is not admitted to the Kentucky bar.
Phelps recently shared a 1,400-word post written in the third person to his campaign’s Facebook page. He presented it as a statement on Woolfolk, her mother and New Legacy, where he was at one time a kitchen manager.
In it, he denied Woolfolk’s allegations and accused her of defamation of character, libel and filing fictitious police reports, among other complaints.
On one of Phelps’ personal Facebook pages, he referred to the woman as an “imbecile, thorn and WHORE,” and posted a meme that read, “close your legs to married men.” On a page for “The Phelps Group,” the same business name as a limited liability corporation Phelps registered with the Kentucky Secretary of State in 2014, she is called a “mentally unstable, ongoing failure.”
The temporary order prohibits any communication between Phelps and the woman, and requires him to stay at least 500 feet away from her at all times. It also prohibits any social media contact.
Since the order was issued last week, Phelps has posted many times mentioning Woolfolk by name or including her pictures, but not tagging her accounts. She said she blocked him on social media.
Woolfolk directly addressed Phelps in at least one Facebook post after blocking him on social media, in which she called him a coward and told him to approach her in person like a man. She did not tag him. It is not clear when she made the post. In another recent post, she indicated she was looking to buy a gun. The posts, which are not visible publicly, were shared by Phelps via screenshots. Their authenticity was confirmed by WFPL News.
It’s unclear whether Phelps’ posts would violate the order prohibiting social media contact, according to Judge Julie Kaelin. Kaelin was not the judge who granted the temporary order and she did not comment on this case specifically, but presides over similar issues. She said every case is different, but an order prohibiting social media contact can cover a wide range of things.
“Social media contact would certainly include private messaging someone, but could also include attempting to get a message to someone via a more public social media post, something that the person with whom they are not supposed to have contact would be intended to see,” Kaelin said.
A hearing to determine whether an interpersonal protective order will be granted is scheduled for Wednesday.
Reporter Eleanor Klibanoff contributed to this story.