Kentucky appeals court gives win to Louisville traffic scofflaw program
The ruling means the program run by County Attorney Mike O'Connell can continue.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Kentucky Court of Appeals issued a victory Friday for an embattled program for speeding drivers and other traffic violators, ruling that County Attorney Mike O’Connell’s Drive Safe Louisville initiative is legal.
In a unanimous decision, the three-member appeals court rebuked a Louisville judge who had barred people in his court from taking part in the program that let O'Connell's office ask judges to dismiss traffic cases without court costs.
District Judge Sean Delahanty "committed numerous errors in this case," according to the ruling, including by "impermissibly" raising the issue of whether the program was constitutional.
"In the cases before Judge Delahanty, there was no showing that the County Attorney was acting in bad faith in setting up, administering, or applying the DSL program in any particular case," the appeals court ruled. "To the contrary, the record was clear that the County Attorney was acting consistent" with the law.
Judge Stephanie Burke also initially didn't allow traffic offenders in her court to take part in the program.
O'Connell is one of more than 80 county prosecutors who have launched traffic schools to raise revenue for their offices. The money is distributed to several recipients, including the county clerk. .
Drivers charged in Jefferson County with any of 17 moving violations can pay $179 to take a two-hour, online class and get their citation dismissed.
"The actions of Judge Delahanty and Judge Burke have created a disorganized and unjust system in Jefferson County," O'Connell said in a statement. “Throughout my time as County Attorney, I have advocated an equal, open, and fair system for all. Today’s ruling is a vindication for these efforts and should end any created impediment to fair and equal access to justice for those in Jefferson County who choose to use Drive Safe Louisville."
Delahanty declined to comment.
In January 2017, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge McKay Chauvin found that Delahanty and District Court Judge Stephanie Burke committed a “great injustice” as the only judges not to allow citizens to participate in the traffic program. Delahanty appealed.
In October 2015, Delahanty had ruled that the online traffic program -- which does not require the payment of court costs -- was unconstitutional.
The appeals court ruled Delahanty did not have the authority to decide whether the program is constitutional and he "erroneously shifted the burden (of proof) to the County Attorney." And legislators gave county attorneys the authority to operate the programs. "While Judge Delahanty is free to personally disagree with the General Assembly's public policy decision with respect to the establishment of traffic safety programs run by county attorneys, he lacked the authority to substitute (state law) with his own ideas."
Delahanty is the lone local judge holding out on agreeing to dismiss cases.
In his ruling, Delahanty maintained that the statute passed by the General Assembly to allow the traffic programs "was rushed into implementation and is constitutionally flawed." The law "negates or unreasonably limits" the authority of the district court judges to use their own discretion in sentencing, he ruled.
The appeals court ruled Delahanty improperly undertook his own investigation into the program without giving the county attorney's office any warning.
"This is an error of grave magnitude," the appeals court ruled. "Equally troubling is the fact that the Attorney General was not provided with any advance notice before Judge Delahanty struck down the statute."
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