While Marshall County Judge-Executive Kevin Neal was on WCBL Friday morning saying he would present the so-called "Second Amendment sanctuary county" ordinance as-is on Jan. 7, 2020 against the advice of County Attorney Jason Darnall, the Benton City Council was holding a special-called meeting to discuss options for putting a stop to the ordinance Benton City Attorney Rob Mattingly called "very troubling for police and judges who are trying to protect our citizens."
Mattingly, who served more than 20 years on the bench as a family court judge, delved into the details of the proposed Second Amendment sanctuary county ordinance (SASO) for the Benton City Council members Dec. 20. He began with reading Kentucky Revised Statute (KRS) 65.870 which he said not only prohibits municipalities (cities) and counties from enacting ordinances such as the proposed SASO but also deems such a measure as "null, void and unenforceable."
According to the KRS, Mattingly explained, the city has the option to file an injunctive order to stop the ordinance from going into effect. He said the SASO wouldn't be considered law until a second reading and successful vote passed the measure, so he advised the council wait until that happens before they take any legal action.
"I think we could file an injunction if it becomes an ordinance as-written, and as-written I have major concerns about it," he said. "The long and short of it is, a county is not able to do this."
Mattingly noted a number of issues with the SASO and its attempted rulings including:
• Imposing penalties on police officers who enforce state and federal laws the SASO deems unenforceable.
• Imposing penalties on elected officials including judges, council members, mayors and commissioners who enforce state and federal laws the SASO deems unenforceable.
• The penalties listed include a "Class A violation," which doesn't exist in Kentucky law and impose a $2,000-4,000 fine which grossly exceeds the $250 fine for a violation per Kentucky law--and the county government doesn't have the authority to change either.
• The county doesn't have the authority to limit or grant jurisdiction of the district court.
• Elected and sworn officials cannot waive statutory immunity.
Mattingly said he spoke with the founder of the Merryman House, which is a haven for people escaping domestic violence, who shared his concerns about the ordinance and how it might be interpreted by people who should not have access to weapons. He said during his time on the bench he issued a number of orders in cases involving domestic violence which prohibited people with a propensity for violence from carrying guns and, if the ordinance passes as-written, the judge could face criminal penalties for issuing that order as well as any police officer who enforces the order.
"There are all types of restraining orders and justifiable reasons for a judge to prohibit certain people from carrying a weapon and this ordinance would prohibit those orders," he explained. "And working in that judicial system, I can tell you there are a lot of dangerous people we deal with and it's a bad situation. I have major concerns about it."
"I anticipate people ignoring state law and rules and regulations because they believe they have the right to do that because of this ordinance," he added. "It's dangerous when you're considering mentally ill and unstable people."
Mayor Rita Dotson said she called the meeting as a means of informing the council in case they have to take action to protect the citizens of Benton, and the officers who protect them. She said it's concerning to her that not one official versed in law has looked at the ordinance and said it's a legal document. She noted retired Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Bill Cunningham, Paducah attorney Mark Bryant, Darnall and now Mattingly had all stated in no uncertain terms it's an illegal document.
"It's not legal. There's nothing legal about it," she added. "The judge (Neal) has indicated he's not changing anything, legal or illegal, so we have to consider separating from this to protect ourselves legally."
Dotson's major concerns were protecting the schoolchildren who might be exposed to firearms if the ordinance passes, and for the safety of her officers. She also noted she is a proponent of the Second Amendment, owns at least 11 guns herself and said she's never been afraid of anyone "taking her guns"--only concerned someone might break into her home to steal them.
Calvert City Mayor Lynn Jones said Calvert City Attorney Greg Northcutt agrees with all of the other attorneys who have weighed in--there are a number of issues and it's an illegal document.
Jones said he doesn't see a Second Amendment rights issue or how the proposed SASO could be a solution to the non-issue.
"I'm a Second Amendment proponent and high-ranking member of the NRA (National Rifle Association)--I think we've gotten off base thinking this is a protection. It's not. And an ordinance can't supersede federal and state law," he explained. "It's not going to produce any positive outcome; it's going to be greatly negative."
Jones went on to say he didn't understand the rush in the timeline, positing everyone would benefit from taking a step back and weighing all the options and information, conducting thorough research and considering all angles before pushing it through.
"It's my opinion that Calvert City will do everything it can to protect its citizens and police officers and we won't allow anything passed to put them in danger," he said. "It would be my estimate today that Calvert City would join in an injunction to stop that ordinance from moving forward."
Jones said his major concerns, which were also shared by Northcutt, were the safety of police officers and of schoolchildren, because they both interpreted the SASO as meaning people would be allowed to carry weapons onto school property.
Jones said he intends to hold a special-called meeting with his council following the holidays but before the Jan. 7, 2020 fiscal court meeting when the ordinance is scheduled for a second reading and vote.
Marshall County Commissioner Kevin Spraggs attended the Benton City Council meeting on Dec. 20 and, after Dotson asked for his input and insight, said he intends to follow the counsel provided by Darnall.
"I have the utmost respect and trust in our county attorney. He's helped me so much in this first year and I could not have done this job without his advice and guidance," he said. "I didn't know [Dr. Val Finnell] was coming and I had no clue about any of this (the SASO ordinance) prior to seeing it on the agenda Tuesday morning."
Spraggs said he didn't know if any changes would be made to the proposed SASO ordinance prior to the second reading; in the meantime, he said he was conducting research and learning as much about the subject as he could ahead of the Jan. 7, 2020 fiscal court meeting.
"I trust Jason [Darnall] and I trust his decisions and if he's advising us to do something, unless I can find solid reason not to, I will take his advice," he said.