FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - A busy week just got even busier as the Kentucky Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in three high-profile cases next month.
On Aug. 8, justices will take up the constitutionality of Kentucky’s Medical Review Panel law, passed by the 2017 General Assembly.
Under the legislation, which passed in March of last year, medical review panels would be established to examine claims in medical malpractice lawsuits against hospitals, doctors and other practitioners. Each side in a dispute would select one panel member. Those two would name the third. Cases could bypass the review panel process and go directly to court if both sides agree.
Supporters saw the legislation as a way to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits, lower malpractice insurance costs and attract more physicians to Kentucky. Opponents feared it would reduce access to the courts for victims of malpractice.
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled the bill was unconstitutional, saying it violated the Kentucky Constitution’s equal protection and special legislation provisions, in addition to mandating panel findings be introduced as evidence in a trial, violated the separation of powers doctrine.
The Court of Appeals stopped the lower court ruling from taking effect, and both sides then appealed the case to the Supreme Court.
On Aug. 10, the high court will take up the Right to Work legislation passed during the first week of the 2017 General Assembly.
That bill would allow employees to work at a union company and enjoy the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement without having to pay union fees and dues, which supporters said would encourage job growth and leave workers more take home pay. Opponents, meanwhile, said the bill would lead to lower wages.
Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate dismissed a lawsuit filed against the bill, in which the plaintiffs claimed it violated eight sections of the constitution. Both sides agreed to have the case move directly to the Supreme Court.
The most recent addition to the August docket was made Thursday, in the case involving a Jefferson District Court Judge’s May primary race.
Danny Alvarez, 43, was the top vote-getter, according to unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s office, for the 9th Division in the Jefferson County District Judge’s race.
He collapsed and died the day after the primary of an apparent heart attack, leaving behind a wife and three children.
In the four-way race, Alvarez garnered 28,694 votes, Tanisha Ann Hickerson finished second with 22,470, with Karen E. Faulkner 17 votes behind at 22,453. The top two finishers in the non-partisan judicial races then meet in the November general election.
The State Board of Elections said since Alvarez died after the election, there was no provision in the law for the second- and third-place finishers to move up, so only Hickerson’s name would appear on the ballot.
Faulkner sued to appear on the ballot, which was upheld by Judge Shepherd. His ruling stated in part, “If after the certification of candidates who will appear on the ballot, any candidate whose name appears on the ballot shall withdraw or die, neither the precinct election officers nor the county board of elections shall tabulate or record the votes cast for the candidates.”
He ordered both candidates to be certified to be on the November ballot.
State law requires ballots to be printed no later than 50 days before the election, so the Court of Appeals, realizing the time constraints involved, on its own motion transferred the case to the Supreme Court.
Oral arguments in that case will also take place on Aug. 10.