Judge rules election allowing alcoholic drinks in Harrodsburg is valid

February 13, 2004|ANN R. HARNEY

HARRODSBURG - The election allowing liquor to be sold by the drink in this city will stand, at least for now.

Mercer Circuit Judge Darren Peckler upheld the election contested in a civil suit against the Mercer County Board of Elections and other officials. As Peckler said in an earlier hearing, the crux of the matter is the definition of a year.

Asked if the plaintiffs will appeal, Mark Gray, one of the plaintiffs, said today, "It will be a day or two before we meet on that."

The lawsuit, filed in December, claimed that the election in which city voters approved the sale of alcohol by the drink was held less than three years since the last such vote. State law says local option elections cannot be held any more often than three years.


The previous election was held on Nov. 7, 2000. The most recent general election was held on Nov. 4. In the most recent election, the "wets" won with a 17-vote margin. General elections are set by law to be on the second Tuesday in November.

The plaintiffs, Carl Toth, William Toth, Gray, August Properties, Mark Edwards and Lees Inc., maintained that a year is 365 days and not what the judge ruled is an election year, from one general election to the next.

Douglas McSwain, attorney for the plaintiffs, said three years means three 365-day periods.

Mercer County Attorney Douglas Greenburg, one of the attorneys for the defendants, argued that while McSwain may be correct in part of his argument, the vote was taken during a general election, in part to save the county money by not holding a special election.

In his rebuttal to Greenburg's argument, McSwain said, "In our situation, the law does not mean the general election and it did not change the meaning of three years."

Peckler cited two lawsuits

The judge said there is no definitive case law on the subject of repealing an election because it did not meet the exact three-year criteria. Peckler cited two lawsuits and two issues which he said spoke to the dispute.

First, he cited Kelly vs. Gruelle, in which the Court of Appeals said the court should not set aside an election "due to slight irregularities."

Then citing state law, the judge said, "If it had meant anything other than an election year, the Legislature would so state."

Secondly, the judge said in the lawsuit of the Temperance League of Kentucky vs. Perry, the same court referred to Section 61 of the state constitution that local option elections may be held on other days, but it does not require it.

With that, Peckler ruled the election was valid.

The defendants in the lawsuit are Mercer County Sheriff Ralph Anderson, a member of the county board of elections, Board of Election Commissioners Daryl Catlett and Ann Robinson, Mercer County Clerk Ronnie Compton, interim Mercer County Clerk Bruce Harper, Mercer County Judge-Executive John Trisler and the city of Harrodsburg.

Soon after the lawsuit was filed, Chuck and Helen Dedman asked to join the lawsuit on the defendant's side.

The Dedmans, owners and operators of Beaumont Inn, have supported the legal sale of alcohol by the drink in every election, and were on hand Thursday at the hearing.

"We were of course delighted with the ruling," Innkeeper Chuck Dedman said today.

"We felt like that was the result that should be reached. We felt confident throughout this that the legislature, the laws and democratic process under this special sale allowed for just exactly (that). That was the intention of the legislation."

He said he and his wife joined the suit in the first place because they have a vested interest in the outcome of the election and the lawsuit.

"Secondly, at that time we were unsure as to how the city and county were to proceed and basically we needed to have our own representation."

The Dedmans, along with other restaurant owners, are proceeding with the process of filing applications for liquor licenses.

After the hearing, Peckler agreed that with his ruling he may be establishing new law. "It appears to be making new law since this particular issue is not presented in any case law."

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