We certainly can understand Franklin Circuit Judge William Grahams wistful desire to see about half of his yearly caseload disappear if Senate Bill 257 passes the House and is signed into law by Gov. Ernie Fletcher.
The bill, which passed the Senate 32-5 Monday, transfers state government lawsuits out of Franklin Circuit Court and into circuits across the state where the plaintiffs reside.
While public attention focuses on the serious constitutional issues that have been litigated on the second floor of the courthouse here for generations, the hard reality is that most state government legal cases involve contract and personnel disputes, and many of those cases can drag on for years with files several inches sometimes feet thick in the Circuit Court Clerks Office. (Just imagine the prospective litigation over the contracts to paint the Kennedy Bridge in Louisville.)
Senate Bill 257 would put those complex legal cases into circuit courts where judges have scant experience with such issues and where local loyalties could create an anti-state bias on the part of judges and juries.
It also would be extremely costly to the taxpayers, who would end up paying to dispatch state government attorneys to the far corners of the commonwealth or, as an alternative, paying inexperienced local attorneys instead.
While the Senate inexplicably didnt see the need to determine the fiscal impact of SB-257, the House of Representatives must. The potential cost to the Attorney Generals Office alone is bound to be significant, and that cost also extends to every state agency with a general council. And theres the cost of rewriting and reprinting all the statutes passed by the General Assembly over the years directing legal questions into Franklin Circuit Court.
Sen. Julian Carroll, himself an attorney and former governor, said SB-257 would create 120 venues and enormous conflict. A local judge could render an inconsistent opinion, which would send it up to the Court of Appeals located here.
The Senate has thrown its snit over losing a couple of high-profile cases before Graham and Circuit Judge Roger Crittenden. Its now the responsibility of the House to send SB-257 to the recycling bin where it belongs.