Woodall wrote that because a precinct is not the same territory as a county, a precinct-wide election can take place less than three years after a county-wide special election on the issue.
Woodall said that because there hasn’t been any legislative intent to overrule Campbell v. Brewer, the court cannot “blaze a new trail” where the Kentucky Supreme Court has already spoken directly about the issue.
In Campbell v. Brewer, the KSC ruled in 1994 that a precinct in a wet county can have vote on the issue less than three years after county-wide vote. Roughly 90 days after it voted itself wet, there were petitions in all 16 precincts in Wolfe County.
Trigg County Judge-Executive Stan Humphries is to schedule a wet/dry election in the Montgomery precinct, Woodall ruled. He added that the Trigg County Circuit Court “cannot change the legislation interpretation of the Kentucky Supreme Court.”
As Woodall listened to all sides of the issue at the hearing, more than 125 people, among them county officials and people representing the pro- and anti-alcohol sides, filled the courtroom during the hearing, which was held in the Circuit Courtroom at the Trigg County Justice Center last Thursday afternoon.
Woodall said at the Thursday hearing that he wanted to “sleep on it at least one more night” and carefully weigh all sides of the case. He used a football analogy at the end of the hearing to justify his decision to wait to decide.
“If I’m Peyton Manning … I can see my wide receivers of no enabling legislation and no definition of territory in the clear,” said Woodall. “I’m not sure I can get them the ball over the onrushing blitz of Campbell versus Brewer.”
During the hearing on Thursday afternoon, Trigg County Attorney H.B. Quinn, Grow Trigg attorney W.E. Rogers III and Benton attorney Donald E. Thomas, who represented the side of those who wanted the election, expanded on the legal briefs that they filed in mid-January.
“I think all of us feel like that because of this county’s history, that we have a right to vote on issues,” said Quinn. “But as the Supreme Court of the United States pointed out, we have a common law here.”
Quinn added that the right to vote on issues is governed by the state’s constitution.
Quinn said it’s unusual in a court case where all three sides agree on the facts. He talked about how the Kentucky Board of Elections and the Kentucky Alcoholic Beverage Commission disagree on whether a precinct can vote itself dry.
Woodall said that those who filed the Montgomery petition tried to “comply with the democratic process” and asked about the margin that the referendum passed by on Sept. 29 last year. It passed by 36 votes.
“There are obviously good people on both sides of the issue, as well as in the middle of the issue,” Woodall said. “It’s a legislative interpretation question, and not the clearest in the world.”
Thomas said that the case Campbell v. Brewer, which he argued it is legal for an individual precinct to have a new vote prior to the three years after the election, has not been overturned.
A large question at the center of the case is whether a precinct counts as a territory, said Thomas. He added that a territory, under Kentucky law, referred to a county, city, precinct or district at the time of Campbell v. Brewer.
“The issue the Court had before them in the above-mentioned case was whether the voters of an individual precinct of a county not containing a city of the four class has the right to a local option vote for their individual precinct,” Thomas wrote in his briefs.
The law was repealed in 1998 and the definitions were repealed, and the definition of a dry territory is a county, city, precinct or a district where a majority of voters voted for prohibition, said Thomas.
After the Campbell v. Brewer decision, changes were made in the relevant laws, and as a result there is no longer any legislative definition of territory, whereas it had previously meant a county, city, precinct or district, said Rogers.
Though Campbell v. Brewer hasn’t been overruled, the legislature changed the law, which the court referred to in other cases, so the ruling in question doesn’t apply, Rogers argued.
As a result, Rogers continued, as a precinct is in the county and isn’t a separate entity, it doesn’t have any basis to stand alone, and additionally it has no government and there isn’t any reason to give it any power or authority when it comes to the sale of alcohol.
“There’s no authority for a precinct to conduct elections,” Rogers said. “That’s our argument in a nutshell.”
Woodall said in his ruling that although the Kentucky State Assembly decided to repeal the definition of territory in 1998, their reason for doing so is “simply conjecture,” and the court can’t interpret a statute based on speculation of what might have been on the minds of the legislators at the time.
Rogers argued that if Montgomery precinct went dry, the area around Interstate 24 would not be able to provide revenue from the sale of alcohol to the county, and added that the area is a large, important hub of economic activity in the county.
Thomas said that since the border of the Montgomery precinct is U.S. 68, alcohol could be sold on the other side of U.S. 68.
Rogers said that the purpose of Grow Trigg, the group that petitioned for the wet/dry vote last year, was to bring more economic development to the county, not to bring immorality to the area.
On Nov. 12, less than two months after the county-wide alcohol referendum, a group, which Thomas represented in court, turned in a petition for a local option alcohol election in the Montgomery precinct in order to keep it “dry.”