If the legal battle against Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis were to ultimately end in her removal from office, Judge-Executive Walter Blevins would have the sole authority to appoint someone until a successor can be elected.
Only hours after Davis and her entire staff of deputy clerks were summoned to appear before U.S. District Judge David Bunning on Thursday to answer to contempt charges filed by the ACLU, Blevins said the prospect of making such an appointment isn’t a duty he looks forward to.
He added that although there’s a chance Davis might be found in contempt of court, he doesn’t think at this point that she will be removed from office.
“We’ll cross that bridge if we get there but it’s not a good place to be for me. But I really think the legislature will pass something with an emergency clause in the next session so it will take effect immediately and maybe she won’t be out of compliance. It should be one of the top bills on their agenda,” he said.
Although Blevins’ office has received hundreds of calls asking him to fire Davis, Blevins said that county clerks can’t be fired.
They can only be impeached by the Kentucky General Assembly and that process could take months or years.
But Blevins said he doesn’t think it will come to that because he believes the 2016 session of the General Assembly will pass legislation to remove clerks’ names from marriage license forms.
“I can’t fire her. The governor can’t even fire her. Only the legislature can impeach her,” said Blevins. “But I think the General Assembly will pass something where marriage licenses don’t have anyone’s name on them. Jack Conway is saying the same thing. It will just be from the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”
Blevins also said that he contacted the governor’s office to request a special session but he doesn’t think it’s going to happen.
He said it can take about five days to pass something like this so the cost of a special session could easily run $300,000.
On Tuesday Gov. Steve Beshear issued a statement reiterating what he’s been saying since the Supreme Court’s decision two months ago: that he isn’t calling a special session of the General Assembly.
Beshear said that Davis’ future is now in the hands of the courts and that he has no legal authority to relieve her of her statutory duty by executive order or to remove her from office.
The governor went on to say that the General Assembly can make any statutory changes it deems necessary when it convenes in January.
“I see no need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money calling a special session of the General Assembly when 117 of 120 county clerks are doing their jobs,” said Beshear.
And although Davis’ office was closed Thursday, Blevins said that marriage licenses would not be issued from his office.
According to a state law that’s been on the books since 1942, in the absence of or during a vacancy in the county clerk’s office, the judge-executive may issue a marriage license and perform the duties of the clerk.
But it doesn’t appear that Kentucky law requires a judge-executive to do so.
Further, Blevins said his office is not equipped to issue marriage licenses because it doesn’t have the required software which originates in Frankfort.
“I don’t think they could even get the software here and have everything ready to go by Thursday anyway. Hopefully, somebody will be back in the clerk’s office the next day or maybe even Thursday afternoon if Bunning tells them he wants somebody back there issuing licenses. I don’t want to get in the way of his orders,” said Blevins.
Larry DeHart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 784-4116.