Court strikes down new law giving participants right to change venue

Attorney News 2023/10/30 12:30   Bookmark and Share
Kentucky’s Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a new state law that allowed participants in constitutional challenges to get the cases switched to randomly selected counties. The court said the legislature’s action on the assignment of court cases encroached on judicial authority.

The law, enacted this year over the governor’s veto, allowed any participants to request changes of venue for civil cases challenging the constitutionality of laws, orders or regulations. It required the clerk of the state Supreme Court to choose another court through a random selection.

Such constitutional cases typically are heard in Franklin County Circuit Court in the capital city of Frankfort. For years, Republican officials have complained about a number of rulings from Franklin circuit judges in high-stakes cases dealing with constitutional issues.

The high court’s ruling was a victory for Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who in his veto message denounced the measure as an “unconstitutional power grab” by the state’s GOP-dominated legislature. Lawmakers overrode the governor’s veto, sparking the legal fight that reached the state’s highest court.

Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office defended the venue law, which passed as Senate Bill 126. Cameron is challenging Beshear in the Nov. 7 gubernatorial election — one of the nation’s highest-profile campaigns this year.

Writing for the court’s majority, Chief Justice Laurance B. VanMeter said the new law amounted to a violation of constitutional separation of powers.

The measure granted “unchecked power to a litigant to remove a judge from a case under the guise of a “transfer,” circumventing the established recusal process, the chief justice wrote.

“It operates to vest a certain class of litigants with the unfettered right to forum shop, without having to show any bias on the part of the presiding judge, or just cause for removal,” VanMeter said.
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