Jefferson County judge candidate sues to appear on November ballot after nominee's sudden death

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A Franklin Circuit Court judge has ordered that Jefferson District Judge candidate Karen Faulkner be permitted to move on to November's general election in the wake of Danny Alvarez's sudden death.

Alvarez, who won the primary for 9th Division Judge on May 22, died the next day at the age of 43. Faulkner, who had finished third in the primary, filed a lawsuit against the Board of Elections, arguing that two candidates -- including her -- must move on to November's general election. 

Judge Phillip Shepherd sided with Faulkner's argument that she has, "a right to compete as a candidate in the general election and ensure that the electorate has a choice between two qualified candidates in November." 

Kentucky law says the top two vote-getting nominees in judicial races move on to the general election. Faulkner finished 17 votes behind second-place candidate, Tanisha Hickerson. 

Hickerson and Secretary of State Alison Lundergran Grimes were also named as defendants in the suit.

Judge Shepherd ruled that, legally, any votes Alvarez received during the primary are null and void, because the state cannot certify votes after the death of the candidate, and Alvarez's votes should not be certified. 

"Issuing a certification in these circumstances would only serve to disenfranchise those who voted for both Alvarez and Faulkner, as those voters (a majority of primary voters) would effectively have to option to vote for Hickerson or not at all in the general election," Judge Shepherd wrote in his ruling. "This would result in the practical disenfranchisement of more than half the voters who participated in the primary."

Shepherd ruled Alvarez' votes should have been omitted when Faulkner - who lost to Hickerson by 17 votes - asked for a recanvass. 

The judge also noted he understood the "impulse to award" Alvarez the nomination "in recognition of his admirable career and successful campaign. Yet the controlling statutes dictate that the legal effect of his tragic death is the nullification of the primary votes cast for him.

"...It would be both ironic, and contrary to statute, if the effect of his death was to ensure the election without opposition of a candidate who he defeated in the primary, and to deprive the citizens who votes for him in the primary the opportunity to have a voice in who will be elected to this judgeship."

In a statement, Faulkner said the ruling was a "great victory for the voters of Jefferson County, who will now have a meaningful choice between qualified candidates in this fall’s general election. I look forward to continuing my campaign and making the case to those voters about how my extensive experience as a public defender and private practitioner have prepared me to serve the public in this important role."

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