HAZARD – An attorney representing the Perry County Ethics Commission filed motions last week seeking to clarify issues in a civil case against its members.
Hazard attorney Jim Hampton last month filed a complaint on behalf of Sheriff Les Burgett and his wife, Lenora, alleging that the ethics commission erroneously issued an opinion that Sheriff Burgett violated the county ethics code by employing his wife in the sheriff’s office. The complaint names the commission and its members – Colson Cornett, Yvon Allen and Ray Jones – as defendants.
With a response filed in the Perry Circuit Clerk’s office on November 9, attorney Bradly Moore of Lexington said his motions seek to dismiss the individual members of the commission as defendants, dismiss Sheriff Burgett as a plaintiff, and request a clearer definition of the action initiated by Sheriff Burgett.
“The purpose behind our motion is to get clarification on the issues,” Moore said during a telephone conversation last week.
According to the local ethics ordinance, elected officials are prohibited from hiring a spouse or dependent child after the date of their election. Burgett was re-elected to office in 2006, and Mrs. Burgett has been employed on a part-time basis in the Perry County Sheriff’s Office since 2008, though a previous ethics commission in 2009 opined that her employment did not violate local law.
That decision was overturned by a newly empaneled commission in September, which prompted Burgett’s appeal.
Moore argues in his first motion that the commission’s members should be dismissed from the suit because, by issuing an advisory opinion as members of the county ethics commission, they were acting in an official capacity to render judgment. According to Moore, under Kentucky law that precludes them from suit.
“Basically what we’re trying to say is the individuals should be dismissed, because under Kentucky law you can’t sue the individual members for discretionary acts, judgment acts, and that’s what we’re looking at here is an act of judgment,” Moore explained.
His second motion moves to dismiss Sheriff Burgett as a plaintiff in the case because, according to the motion, the commission’s opinion was issued in response to Lenora Burgett’s employment, and did not invade or infringe upon the sheriff’s rights.
“The decision by the Commission only deals with an opinion concerning Lenora Burgett,” the motion states. “Furthermore, there is no allegation in the record of any action taken as it relates to Les Burgett.”
Moore’s final motion requests that a clearer and more definite statement be made regarding the nature of Burgett’s claim. The initiating document filed by Hampton is styled as a “Complaint/Notice of Appeal,” and according to Moore’s motion it is unclear whether the case is an appeal of the commission’s decision, or a complaint seeking redress for wrongdoing.
Additionally, Moore argues, there is no substantiation that the commission’s members failed to perform their duty, which must be established before a civil action can proceed.
A call made to Jim Hampton’s Hazard office seeking comment was not returned on Monday, but Hampton did previously tell the Herald that the he feels the commission overstepped its authority by overturning the previous decision issued in 2009.
According to the original complaint filed in October, Burgett is seeking the commission’s ruling be reversed, and the awarding of costs and a reasonable attorney’s fee.