Citing precedent dating back nine decades, a judge dismissed a challenge of Republican Daniel Cameron’s qualifications to serve as Kentucky attorney general.
Jefferson Circuit Judge Barry Willett issued a 10-page decision Thursday which said Cameron meets the state constitutional requirement that the attorney general have eight years experience as a practicing attorney.
“Courts in Kentucky have long been cautious in applying eligibility requirements to candidates for public office,” Willett wrote in his analysis of the case.
While pleased with the verdict, Cameron, 33, said he believes his standing as a candidate never was in jeopardy and the ruling came as no surprise.
Although his Democrat opponent was not a party to the suit, Cameron blames Greg Stumbo for the legal challenge.
“I’m thrilled to put this frivolous lawsuit behind us. It’s sad that Greg Stumbo stooped to this level. He can’t win an election straight up so he tried and failed to cheat us off the ballot,” Cameron said in a formal statement released by his campaign. “For someone who talks about experience all the time it is funny that Stumbo and his cronies don’t understand the law. But this was never about the law, it was always about politics.”
Cameron called the case “nonsense” and said it was prompted by his lead in opinion polls and campaign fundraising.
“We are ready for all his tricks,” Cameron’s statement said.
The judge’s ruling also cited a 1995 case challenging Democrat Ben Chandler’s right to run for the same office. Chandler, who eventually was elected attorney general, had spent almost four of his eight years since passing the bar as Kentucky’s elected state auditor.
Stumbo mentioned plans for a lawsuit Sept. 16 during a public appearance in Radcliff the day before the claim was filed in Jefferson Circuit Court. A member of his staff later said Stumbo “had heard rumblings” about the challenge but was not associated with it.
During the campaign, Stumbo, 68, has cited Cameron’s youth and work history to support his contention the Elizabethtown native is not qualified for the job. He repeated those themes in a comment released by his campaign Thursday after the ruling.
Describing the office's role defending state law and serving as the chief law-enforcement officer, Stumbo said Cameron's testimony Monday attested to his limited experience.
“My opponent has never even prosecuted a traffic ticket citation,” said Stumbo, a long-time legislator and former House speaker, who served a previous term as attorney general from 2005 to 2008,
An attorney for the plaintiff, Joseph Jackson of Louisville, said in an email that an appeal is planned.
“We are reviewing the order and are disappointed in the ruling but it appears the decision ignored many of the key facts admitted to by Daniel Cameron while he was on the stand,” said attorney Ben Gastel, who is with the Nashville, Tennessee, office of Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings.
Cameron qualified for the general election by defeating state Sen. Wil Schroder in the Republican primary, testified during a hearing conducted Monday in Jefferson Circuit Court.
Quoting from a 1929 verdict, Judge Willett said Kentucky courts recognizes “the ‘right of the people to exercise freedom on choice’ in electing their representatives.” Willett also repeatedly cited a 1937 case in which the state’s highest court accepted a broad definition of practicing attorney as a licensed individual who provides service with legal knowledge or advice.
Cameron, who passed the bar exam in October 2011, meets the eight-year calendar requirement this month, but lawsuit contended his time spent as a judicial law clerk did not qualify. The lawsuit said an ethics pledge required of law clerks prohibited them from acting as “practicing attorneys.”
His bio said he graduated in 2011 from the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville. After serving as a law clerk, Cameron was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s legal counsel from 2015 to 2017 before joining the law firm of Frost Brown Todd in Louisville.
Cameron, a 2004 graduate of John Hardin High School, has a joint news conference and campaign announcement scheduled at 3:30 p.m. today with Gov. Matt Bevin at the Governor’s Mansion in Frankfort.