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Appeal filed in alcohol petition case

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Case will head to Kentucky's Court of Appeals.

By Calen McKinney

An appeal has been filed contesting a judge's decision to uphold the results of last May's local option election, which allowed some Campbellsville restaurants to serve alcohol.

Last May, the majority of Campbellsville's voters approved a ballot measure allowing restaurants in Campbellsville - that seat at least 50 people and derive at least 70 percent of their revenue from food sales - to serve alcohol by the drink. However, alcohol can only be served in conjunction with a meal.

The measure passed by 74 votes and made Campbellsville a moist city. A dry county such as Taylor County that contains a city allowing some form of alcohol sales is considered moist.

A month after the election, Lebanon attorney Rob Spragens filed a petition contesting the election on behalf of Don and June Bishop, Russell Burris and Murey G. Finn.

Taylor County Sheriff John Shipp, Taylor County Clerk Mark Carney, Allen Dudgeon and Phil Allan Bertram, all members of the Taylor County Board of Elections, and Taylor County Judge/Executive Eddie Rogers were named as defendants.

The lawsuit sought to void the results of the vote based on the wording of the question that appeared on the ballot.

The petition and initial ballots did not include a phrase stating that alcohol can only be served in conjunction with a meal. Eighty-five residents voted on the incomplete question by absentee machine before it was corrected.

Another month later, in July, Mike Kehoe, who helped organize the effort to place the alcohol question on the voting ballot, Mike Phillips and Barry Cox petitioned the court to be made party to the lawsuit as defendants, which was granted.

Senior Status Judge Doughlas M. George stated in his ruling, which was filed into court records on Tuesday, Feb. 17, that the petition complied with state law and "was sufficient enough for the contestors to know exactly what section of the local option law they wanted placed on the ballot" and the improperly worded question on those 85 ballots does not invalidate the election results.

George also stated that the 85 ballots containing the incomplete question should have been counted because voters understood the issue before them. Even if those votes had been thrown out, George stated, election results would not have changed.

State law does not require the exact language of a state law to be printed on a petition, George stated. Further, he stated, because only one state law pertains to the sale of alcohol in restaurants seating 50 people and deriving 70 percent of their revenue from food sale, it is clear which provision was being discussed.

Spragens filed an appeal of George's ruling on Thursday, Feb. 26 at the Taylor Circuit Clerk's office.

On Friday, Finn said he got involved in the lawsuit because he has worked with alcoholics and seen what alcohol can do to people.

"I just hated to see it in our community," he said.

Burris and the Bishops could not be reached for comment.

Frankfort attorney Paul Harnice, who represents Kehoe, Phillips and Cox, said that, pursuant to Kentucky law, the election results should have been upheld.

"We believe that Judge George's order is sound and based on the facts and the law," he said.

On Friday, Spragens said cases like this are usually decided by a judge who considers the case and makes his or her best judgment on the issues.

"We respect [George's] right to do that," she said. "We respectfully disagree."

Spragens said he believes the Court of Appeals judges should be given the chance to look at the case and their judgment could be precedent setting.

He said the circumstances in this case are unlike any other, and the Court of Appeals' decision could help public officials determine how to handle situations similar to this one, should they come up.

"[The case] deserves another look."

Spragens said Court of Appeals cases often take a while to settle, because of the heavy caseload at the appellate level and the timeliness of other cases currently up for their consideration. He said this appeal could take a year or longer to be decided, though the issues involved aren't complicated.

"Procedurally, this is a very simple appeal," he said.

The only issue to be decided, he said, is the application of Kentucky law to the circumstances involved.

Spragens said the attorneys in the case will file briefs and the Court of Appeals' judges will then take the case under submission. He said the Court of Appeals may ask for an oral hearing before rendering their judgment.

Carney commented on George's ruling in an e-mailed statement nearly two weeks ago. On Friday, he said he didn't have anything else to add to those comments.

In his earlier statement, Carney said he was pleased with George's ruling.

"As the chief election official of the county, it is my job along with the County Board of Elections to provide the fairest elections possible to the citizens of Campbellsville and Taylor County. I will always try to have the most accurate and fairest election possible, regardless of my personal opinion as to whether I am in favor of an issue or against it."

Also in his statement, Carney commended Taylor County Attorney Craig Cox, who represented the Board of Election members and Rogers, for noticing the absentee ballot error and for his work in compiling the facts concerning the case.

Cox was out of the office on Friday and could not be reached for comment.

While the lawsuit was pending, it didn't stop the issuance of alcohol licenses to a few restaurants in Campbellsville, including Café Bonin and Fiesta Mexico. Two others, The Smoke Pit and Pancho's Mexican Restaurant, have applied for a license.

At a special meeting in July, the City Council approved an ordinance regulating alcohol sales, which permits restaurants to serve alcohol from 6 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday.

- Staff Writer Calen McKinney can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 235 or by e-mail at reporter@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.