The tax-payer funded attorney representing Louisville Metro Councilwoman Judy Green, D-1, told a Jefferson Circuit Court judge Monday that a panel misread an ordinance when it ruled the embattled lawmaker violated the city’s code of ethics.
Earlier this year, the Metro Ethics Commission found that Green intentionally violated the ethics ordinance in two separate complaints. In the first case, Green was charged with using a city-funded summer jobs program to benefit members of her family. The second complaint alleged Green rerouted taxpayer dollars through a non-profit group without the council’s knowledge.
Green’s attorney Kent Wicker says the panel tried to shoehorn accusations into the ruling and used its own moral code to punish the councilwoman for violations that aren’t covered in the law.
“They started the process with allegations that she had stolen money, and it turned out that wasn’t true,” he says. “But they found sloppy bookkeeping or other types of conduct that they thought were a bad idea and they tried to fit it into the specific prohibitions of the ethics ordinance where they don’t belong.”
“An ethics code—just like a criminal law or a civil law—tells people what they can do and what they can’t. And if an ethics code doesn’t prevent the conduct that means it’s permissible. So the question for the court is whether the ethics ordinance applies to the conduct that we’re talking about here.”
The panel ruled unanimously in both cases that Green deliberately broke the law, which was amended by the council last year. It issued a stinging letter of reprimand and censure against Green, adding a recommendation of her removal from office.
After reviewing the findings, five council members signed a petition calling for Green’s ouster where she now faces an expulsion trial set for September 12.
In the motion, Green and her attorney claim the commission’s opinions are based on errors and she is requesting the court overturn both decisions.
However, the attorney representing the commission says Wicker is only reading part of the ethics ordinance, adding Green abused her authority while misleading the public and council.
“I think they were both against the spirit and the concrete letter of the law. And you can’t just read part of the law to get that answer,” says attorney James Earhart. “If this isn’t what the ethics ordinance is directed to deal with then I don’t know why they have one.”
Earhart says the appeal to the ethics panel’s rulings is separate from the misconduct charges Green faces in the council. But he has requested the judge rule on the court’s jurisdiction in the case before issuing an opinion.
Asked if the appeal to the ethics commission’s rulings could have any bearing on the impeachment trial of Green in the council, Earhart made it clear the two situations are separate matters.
“I don’t think this has any impact upon the council whatsoever,” he says. “And I’ve presented that to the judge previously. It’s just like Congress, when they decide to remove a member of Congress they don’t then go to court to hold their position. It’s the legislative branch and they control the legislative branch,” he says.
But Green’s attorney says if the court reverses the commission’s ruling it would allow council members to use that information when deliberating the misconduct charges and should be a case for pause.
“It would seem to me that would be an important thing for them to know before going forward,” says Wicker.