Delahanty v. Commonwealth, 2017-CA-000186-MR

CourtCourt of Appeals of Kentucky
Citation558 S.W.3d 489
Docket NumberNO. 2017-CA-000186-MR,2017-CA-000186-MR
Parties Hon. Sean R. DELAHANTY, in His Official Capacity as Jefferson District Court Judge; and Hon. Stephanie Pearce Burke, in Her Official Capacity as Jefferson District Court Judge, Appellants v. COMMONWEALTH of Kentucky, Appellee
Decision Date25 May 2018

558 S.W.3d 489

Hon. Sean R. DELAHANTY, in His Official Capacity as Jefferson District Court Judge; and Hon. Stephanie Pearce Burke, in Her Official Capacity as Jefferson District Court Judge, Appellants
v.
COMMONWEALTH of Kentucky, Appellee

NO. 2017-CA-000186-MR

Court of Appeals of Kentucky.

MAY 25, 2018; 10:00 A.M.
Discretionary Review Denied by Supreme Court October 25, 2018


BRIEF AND ORAL ARGUMENT FOR APPELLANTS: Michael R. Mazzoli, Louisville, Kentucky.

BRIEF AND ORAL ARGUMENT FOR APPELLEE: Michael J. O'Connell, David A. Sexton, Louisville, Kentucky.

BEFORE: KRAMER, CHIEF JUDGE; JOHNSON AND JONES, JUDGES.

OPINION

JONES, JUDGE:

Appellants, Sean R. Delahanty and Stephanie Pearce Burke, in their official capacities as Jefferson District Court Judges, bring this appeal challenging a writ of mandamus/prohibition entered by the Jefferson Circuit Court. Following a careful review of the record and applicable law, we affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

In 2012, the Kentucky General Assembly amended KRS 1 186.574 to authorize county attorneys to operate traffic safety programs for traffic offenders prior to the adjudication of their traffic offenses, for which the county attorneys are permitted to charge a "reasonable fee."

558 S.W.3d 495

KRS 186.574(6)(a)-(c)(1).2 The Jefferson County Attorney implemented a program under KRS 186.574(6), known as Drive Safe Louisville ("DSL"), in 2013. In brief, upon a traffic offender’s successful completion of the DSL program, the County Attorney moves the district court to dismiss the traffic violation charge with prejudice.3 Therefore, unlike state traffic school, traffic offenders who participate in the DSL program avoid having charges on their record and points added to their drivers' licenses.4

Shortly after implementation of the DSL program, a dispute arose as to whether the judges of the Jefferson District Court could require DSL program participants to pay court costs prior to dismissing their citations. The Jefferson Circuit Court entered a writ of prohibition and/or mandamus directing all Jefferson District Court judges to dismiss charges against DSL program participants without imposing court costs. The order granting the writ was appealed to this Court and was then transferred to the Kentucky Supreme Court. In 2015, while the matter was pending before the Kentucky Supreme Court, the General Assembly amended KRS 186.574(6) to include language requiring any participant in a county attorney operated traffic safety program to "pay a thirty dollar ($30) fee to the county attorney in lieu of court costs." KRS 186.574(6)(e). As a result, by order entered June 11, 2015, the Kentucky Supreme Court dismissed the appeal as moot.

During the pendency of the appeal, some—but not all—of the Jefferson District Court judges held cases in which the County Attorney had moved for dismissal of traffic citations issued to DSL program participants in abeyance. At the time the Kentucky Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, approximately 2,300 DSL cases were being held in abeyance at the district court level. After the Kentucky Supreme Court entered its dismissal order, those cases were scheduled for disposition on the district court’s November 17, 2015 docket; on September 22, 2015, Judge Delahanty issued an order prohibiting any of the 2,300 cases to be advanced to any other docket without his prior approval.

Two days later, Judge Delahanty emailed the Jefferson County Attorney to inform him that he had selected five pending DSL cases and moved them to the October 1, 2015 docket. Judge Delahanty stated that he believed the five listed cases were representative of the 2,300 cases previously held in abeyance and that any order issued on October 1, 2015, would apply

558 S.W.3d 496

to all DSL cases. The County Attorney filed an objection to Judge Delahanty’s "email order" on September 29, 2015. In addition to noting that the email communication did not comport with the requirements for an order, the County Attorney contended that it was unlawful for the district court to unilaterally select five cases and determine that they adequately represented all 2,300 DSL cases currently pending. Notwithstanding its objections, the County Attorney appeared at the October 1, 2015 hearing.

At the outset of the hearing, Judge Delahanty indicated that he had advanced the five cases to discuss the effect of the recent Supreme Court order and how the court was going to proceed with the 2,300 DSL cases. For the remainder of the hearing—approximately an hour and twenty minutes—Judge Delahanty espoused his belief that KRS 186.574(6) was "amateurish" and poorly written, and he extensively questioned the County Attorney on various aspects of the DSL program. The County Attorney attempted to answer all questions and ended the hearing by requesting the district court to advance and dismiss all pending DSL cases. In the days that followed, Judge Delahanty sent several emails to the County Attorney requesting additional information on the DSL program.5 Judge Delahanty also visited the County Attorney’s office to participate in a demonstration of the DSL program.

On October 23, 2015, Judge Delahanty issued a twenty-page order "granting motions to dismiss in part, denying in part" (the "October 2015 Order"). The first eighteen pages of the order addressed a myriad of issues, none of which had been raised by the parties; for example, the order discussed due process, separation of powers, potential ethical issues under the Kentucky Rules of Professional Conduct, equal protection, and the reasonableness of the DSL program’s fees. Ultimately, the district court concluded that the DSL program and KRS 186.574(6) were unconstitutional, as written and applied.

Even though Judge Delahanty concluded that the DSL program was unconstitutional, he did not order the County Attorney to refund the fees he collected from the defendants for participation in the DSL program. To the contrary, Judge Delahanty granted the County Attorney’s motions to dismiss in all but one of the 2,300 DSL program cases before him.6 He reasoned that the County Attorney had entered into "plea agreements" with the traffic violators under which the County Attorney promised that the traffic charges would be dismissed upon successful completion of the DSL program. According to Judge Delahanty, the defendants had detrimentally relied on the County Attorney’s offer making the agreements binding notwithstanding his conclusion that the DSL program and its authorizing statute were unconstitutional.

Thereafter, Judge Delahanty and his colleague, Jefferson District Court Judge Stephanie Pearce Burke, began treating the portion of the October 2015 Order declaring the DSL program and KRS 186.574(6) unconstitutional as binding precedent. In reliance on the October 2015 Order, both judges began routinely: (1) advising counsel and persons appearing before them that the DSL program was no

558 S.W.3d 497

longer available as an option; (2) no longer referring traffic offenders to the DSL program; (3) not continuing cases for the purpose of allowing would-be participants to take part in the DSL program; and/or (4) refusing to dismiss citations upon the attendees' completion of the DSL program.

On December 2, 2015, Judge Delahanty entered an order directing that all DSL cases be continued on the court’s docket until November 17, 2016.7 On December 22, 2015, the County Attorney filed a petition for a writ of prohibition and/or mandamus with the Jefferson Circuit Court pursuant to Kentucky Rule of Civil Procedure ("CR") 81, Kentucky Supreme Court Rule ("SCR") 1.040(6), and KRS 32A.080. The County Attorney’s petition alleged that Judges Delahanty and Burke were refusing to apply KRS 186.574(6) on the basis that it had been previously declared unconstitutional by Judge Delahanty. The petition went on to allege that Judges Delahanty and Burke had "repeatedly declared and ruled that any citizen who successfully complete[s] the Drive Safe Louisville program and otherwise complies with the financial requirements of that statute will not have their cases dismissed when the Commonwealth, through the Jefferson County Attorney, makes motions to dismiss those respective traffic citations." (Emphasis in original).

The County Attorney requested the circuit court to grant his petition and prohibit Judges Delahanty and Burke from taking any action based on Judge Delahanty’s prior opinion declaring KRS 186.574(6) unconstitutional. The County Attorney also requested a writ directing and mandating that Judges Delahanty and Burke give full force and effect to the provisions of KRS 186.574(6).

In their response, Judges Delahanty and Burke contended that a writ was an inappropriate remedy. They noted that, if the October 2015 Order had been adverse to the County Attorney, the County Attorney could have either appealed the Order to the circuit court or requested a certification of the law.8 Because the October 2015 Order had granted the County Attorney’s motions to dismiss, however, Judges Delahanty and Burke alleged that none of the parties affected by it had received an adverse result. Therefore, the judges contended that there could be no showing of irreparable injury sufficient...

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