Two Kentucky district court judges illegally refused to let motorists participate in the Jefferson County attorney’s traffic school, the Kentucky Court of Appeals said in affirming a lower court ruling.
The court in a 3-0 ruling Friday upheld an opinion by Jefferson Circuit Judge McKay Chauvin that District Judges Sean Delahanty and Stephanie Pearce Burke improperly blocked alleged traffic scofflaws from Drive Safe Louisville.
The ruling is a victory for Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell, one of many county attorneys who launched their own traffic programs to raise revenue for their offices under a law enacted by the General Assembly in 2012. The program allows drivers charged with any of 17 moving violations to get their citation dismissed with no points assessed if they pay a fee, now $179, and take a two-hour online class.
Delahanty has derided the program as a “glorified speed trap.” He and Burke barred defendants in their courts from participating, saying the program skirts judicial oversight and invades the power of the courts. Burke maintained it is a conflict of interest for the county attorney’s office to make money as a result of decisions not to prosecute.
But the Court of Appeals found that Delahanty committed an error of “grave magnitude” when he declared the the traffic school law unconstitutional without giving the county attorney’s office and the attorney general a meaningful chance to defend it.
“The County Attorney was deprived of the most basic tenets of due process in the district court proceedings,” the court said.
Delahanty and Burke could ask the state Supreme Court to hear the case; Delahanty declined to comment while Burke couldn’t be reached for comment.
The three-judge panel declined to address the constitutionality of the law itself.
In a statement, O’Connell said the ruling is “an affirmation that wildly erroneous decisions cannot be tolerated and that all litigants are entitled to fair, and due, process.”
He also noted that 95 of 120 county attorneys operate traffic school programs and that they help pay for the operation of such offices when state budgets are tight.
The $179 fee collected in Jefferson County is divided four ways: $80 to O’Connell’s office; $44 goes to a private vendor; $25 to the Administrative Office of the Courts; and $30 to the state.
Nearly 25,000 defendants had gone through Drive Safe Louisville as last October, generating about $4 million, according to Josh Abner, a county attorney’s office spokesman. About $1.9 million went to the office; about $1.2 million to PSI KY, the vendor; $621,000 to the court; and $325,250 to state and local governments and other causes.
Andrew Wolfson: 502-582-7189; email@example.com;