Republican attorney general candidate Daniel Cameron testified Monday that working as a law clerk for a federal judge fulfills the constitutional requirements to run for Kentucky’s chief prosecutor.
The GOP nominee, who is running against Democrat Greg Stumbo, was peppered with questions for half an hour about his legal career, which is at the center of a lawsuit challenging Cameron’s eligibility to be on the November ballot.
The suit, filed by Louisville resident Joseph Jackson, alleges Cameron hasn’t practiced law for eight years, as is required for attorney general candidates under the state constitution.
“This is fatal to his campaign for attorney general,” Ben Gastel, an attorney for Jackson, told Jefferson Circuit Judge Barry Willett in court on Monday. “He’s simply not constitutionally qualified to be on the ballot.”
But Cameron pushed back during Monday’s hearing, saying U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove was his client.
“I practiced law as a law clerk advising the judge on legal matters, working on opinions and legal research as well,” Cameron said in court.
Both sides agree Cameron obtained his law license on Oct. 21, 2011, but the plaintiff’s attorney said he did not actually begin practicing law until 2013, when he ended his federal clerkship.
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Gastel pointed out through documents how Cameron did not list the federal judge on his client lists when changing jobs, for instance. He also pointed to ethical rules, which say federal clerks should refrain from practicing law except in limited circumstances.
Attorney Sheryl Snyder, who is representing Cameron, said in the courtroom Monday that the state constitution and other rulings have left the term “practicing lawyer” vague for a reason. He said Cameron’s clerkship counts, and that the court should allow the voters to decide if his client is qualified enough.
“The clerk renders services, they are services involving legal knowledge, they are legal advice to a person,” he said.
Snyder also pointed out how the code of conduct for federal judicial employees says clerks can practice law in limited circumstances, including unpaid family legal work or pro bono work in civil matters.
Cameron testified Monday he did such work when he helped his father prepare an estate will. He said the federal judge he worked for gave him permission to practice law under those limited circumstances.
“I would suggest to the court that a federal judicial law clerk is doing more in terms of heavy-duty legal lifting than most first- and second-year lawyers do,” Snyder said. “They are working at a high level of a practice with a federal judge writing memos, reading briefs and writing draft opinions. They’re not just twiddling their thumbs and giving advice on football games.”
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Both sides also sparred over the resolution of a 1995 complaint challenging the eligibility of attorney general candidate Ben Chandler for similar reasons.
The plaintiff in that case alleged that Chandler’s four years serving as state auditor should not count as practicing law, but the judge disagreed and dismissed the case.
The Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld that dismissal in an unpublished opinion, and the Kentucky Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
Republicans have howled since the suit was first filed last month that it is a political ploy by Democrats and the Stumbo campaign, which has made Cameron’s age and lack of experience a centerpiece of their attacks.