News Around the State

Ky. school shooting judge at center of legal battles

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A Kentucky judge presiding over the trial of a teenager charged in a school shooting is being challenged for holding closed proceedings.

Marshall County Circuit Judge James Jameson has closed Gabriel Parker’s arraignment and other proceedings over the objections of some media outlets. Parker is facing adult murder charges for the killing of two students Jan. 23 at Marshall County High School.

A group of western Kentucky media outlets filed petitions with the Kentucky Court of Appeals over the secrecy, saying Jameson has sealed public records and held other secret hearings. Jameson filed a petition this week rebutting those claims.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Mark Blankenship, the county’s top prosecutor, has filed a motion asking for a special judge to be appointed to the case.

W.Va governor’s family’s companies owe millions in Ky. taxes

HINDMAN, Ky. (AP) — Coal companies controlled by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s family owe nearly $3 million in delinquent Kentucky property taxes, money that local governments desperately need to avoid laying off teachers.

The Lexington Herald-Leader cited records Monday saying the Kentucky Fuel Corporation is behind nearly $2 million on taxes on real estate, mining equipment and coal reserves in Knott County alone. Federal mining records say James and Jill Justice became controllers of Kentucky Fuel in April, but the taxes have been overdue since their billionaire father was in charge.

James Justice says the assessments on the family’s coal properties are too high, arguing that taxes should decline with profitability as the coal industry declines. He said he’s analyzing the debts to figure out the “right” number to offer the affected counties in negotiated settlements.

Assistant Knott County Attorney Randy G. Slone said “Kentucky Fuel’s standard business practice” is to try to reduce debts by dragging its feet on paying bills. Other coal companies are delinquent on their taxes as well, but he said they’re the “No. 1 problem by far.”

More than $1 million of the unpaid Knott County taxes would go to schools, district Finance Officer Greg Conn said, enough to pay a deficit that will otherwise force teacher layoffs.

Production is plummeting and miners are being laid off across the coal industry, and the Justice family’s coal operations haven’t escaped the beating. Federal records show the family controlled 154 coal mines or facilities in several states as of 2016, but now 39 of them are listed as abandoned, non-producing or idle by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Still, Slone says the county shouldn’t be forced to go to court to collect taxes from companies controlled by the family of Justice, who was elected governor as a Democrat in 2016 and switched his registration to the Republican Party last year.

Counties must wait at least two years to sue companies for unpaid taxes, and Knott County’s latest lawsuit against Kentucky Fuel, for unpaid taxes from 2015, is still pending.

Kentucky Fuel has denied the county’s claim and asked the court to award the county nothing.

Clerk jailed for refusing marriage licenses writes book

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Kentucky clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples has written a book.

“Under God’s Authority: The Kim Davis Story ” was announced Monday by Liberty Counsel, the Florida-based law firm that represents Davis. The book is published by New Revolution Publishers.

Davis is the elected clerk for Rowan County in eastern Kentucky. In 2015, Davis stopped issuing marriage licenses following the U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Davis was jailed for five days for refusing to follow a court order.

Davis is up for re-election in November as a Republican. Four Democrats have filed to challenge her. They include David Ermold, a gay man to whom Davis denied a marriage license in 2015.

Bill allowing higher sales at craft breweries advances

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A bill allowing Kentucky’s craft brewers to sell more of their beer at their establishments is close to clearing the legislature.

The measure was advanced without any changes by a Senate committee Tuesday. If it passes the Senate, it goes to Gov. Matt Bevin. It has passed the House.

The bill would raise the limit on per-customer sales by microbrewers at their establishments. It would allow daily, on-premise sales of up to the equivalent of two kegs to each customer. The current limit equals a case of 12-ounce beers (2.25 gallons or 8.5 liters).

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer spoke in favor of restoring the bill to its original form to allow unlimited, on-premise sales. But he didn’t ask for a vote on his amendment. The increased cap was a compromise with wholesale and retail interests.

Flooding closes Ali Center for several days

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The Muhammad Ali Center is downtown Louisville will remain closed to visitors until March 6 due to extreme flooding.

The center says rising water levels in the parking garage forced a shutdown of electric power to the elevators. The building, just about a block from the Ohio River, has not been damaged by the high waters.

Ali Center president Donald Lassere says the center is being closed for the safety of visitors and employees.

Widespread flooding in the downtown area has reached levels not seen since 1997. Weather forecasters say the flood waters in Louisville are expected to crest on Monday and begin dropping.