Metro Councilman Dan Johnson

The trial determining whether Councilman Dan Johnson will be removed from his position on Louisville Metro Council is scheduled to begin next Wednesday, though much uncertainty remains about this process — specifically which council members are allowed to vote on Johnson’s fate and how many votes are required to remove him.

This confusion may be settled in a pre-trial hearing of the Metro Council Court scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 25, at 4 p.m., but it stems from a bill passed by the Kentucky General Assembly this year that amended the statute outlining how Metro Council members are removed.

Attorneys for Johnson, the Charging Committee of five council members seeking to remove Johnson, and the Jefferson County Attorney’s office all appear to interpret the matter differently.

Before the state legislature amended this statute, Louisville Metro Council’s members could be removed by a two-thirds vote of the 20-member Council Court, which is made up of every member except those on the five-member Charging Committee and the council member who is on trial.

Thus, 14 votes would be needed to remove a council member and seven votes would be needed to keep a member. This was the process when the Council Court voted to remove former Councilwoman Judy Green in 2011 and when another Council Court voted to keep Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin in 2013.

However, in its sweeping bill altering several aspects of Louisville Metro Government, the state legislature changed the statute so that the removal of a council member required a two-thirds of council members, striking the reference to such a percentage of the vote being need of the council “sitting as a court.”

In a motion to the court filed three weeks ago, Johnson’s attorney Thomas McAdam wrote that this change in state law means that while the court still deliberates on the evidence in the case and are the only members allowed to vote, the votes totaling two-thirds of the entire council are needed to remove a member. Therefore, 18 of the 20 members on the Metro Council Court would need to vote against Johnson in order for him to be kicked out of his position.

Deborah Kent, the attorney for the Charging Committee, responded in a motion the next week that she partly agreed with McAdam, as the law now required 18 votes — two-thirds of the entire council — to remove Johnson.

However, Kent argued that since the reference to a council court was struck from the statute, this meant that other council members could also vote — including the five members of the Charging Committee and perhaps Johnson himself.

The Jefferson County Attorney’s office is giving advice to the Metro Council Court and its presiding officer — Metro Council President David Yates — which may end up giving a third interpretation for how many votes are needed and who gets to vote.

Tony Hyatt, the spokesman for the Democratic caucus of the council, told IL that the county attorney’s office believes the council should maintain the same system it had in the previous two trials of Green and Shanklin, as what the state legislature passed was too “confusing.”

Assistant county attorney Matt Golden would not detail to IL his advice to Yates and the council on how they should rule on this motion, saying “the Council Court will make all appropriate determinations on this issue in due course, and we will advise our client throughout. However, I cannot comment on this pending litigation.”

Thomas McAdam, the attorney of Dan Johnson, sparred with reporter Phillip Bailey of The Courier-Journal at a press conference this summer. | Photo by Joe Sonka

The Council Court will meet Wednesday afternoon for a pre-trial hearing, in which 10 motions from the attorneys on both sides are to be discussed and ruled on, including this matter over the voting process.

The Charging Committee was formed to remove Johnson this summer after new accusations that he groped Councilwoman Jessica Green and exposed his buttocks to the legislative aide of Councilwoman Angela Leet in the council parking lot last year.

Johnson said the incident with Green was an accident and that he doesn’t remember the incident with Leet’s aide — Erin Hinson — though adding in a radio interview that his pants often fall down because he has a small waist.

The Charging Committee also refers to a history of inappropriate behavior by Johnson, including counter accusations and legal threats made by Johnson after the two alleged incidents were reported in the media.

Kent is seeking to call four witnesses in the trial, including Leet’s aide, former council president David Tandy and Sarah Davasher-Wisdom — the chief operating officer of Greater Louisville Inc., the local chamber that has banned Johnson from its events.

Davasher-Wisdom was called as a witness regarding Johnson’s behavior at a GLI event in Austin, Texas, last year, where he is alleged to have harassed an unnamed female GLI staffer.

McAdam has called for 20 witnesses, including seven members of Metro Council, two employees of GLI, Hinson, Mayor Greg Fischer and Courier-Journal reporter Phillip Bailey, who first reported the incidents involving Green and Hinson.

McAdam’s motions include requests to dismiss the removal proceedings entirely, disqualify Yates from presiding over the Council Court, separate witnesses so they cannot hear the testimony of others before giving their own testimony, and introduce photographs of Johnson and Green into evidence from the event where the alleged groping incident happened.

In Kent’s motion objecting to these photographs being placed into evidence, she wrote that they these photos were “irrelevant.” Kent added that these photographs do not prove anything regarding the events at the Wyandotte Park press conference except to rebut Johnson’s previously submitted statement to the court that his touching of Green took place “in front of approximately 1,000 witnesses” and occurred when “the group crowded together for a photograph.”

“It is clear in these photos that, at best, a couple dozen witnesses were at Wyandotte Park, and that Councilman Johnson was not part of a crowd of people struggling to fit into a photo,” wrote Kent.

Kent also filed motions to exclude what she called irrelevant evidence requested by McAdam, as well as evidence of alleged bias of council members and evidence of leaks to the media, arguing that they would needlessly delay and divert the Council Court from hearing important evidence.

She also filed a motion seeking a ruling for a summary disposition in the case, which would remove Johnson before the trial could even begin.

There also is uncertainty regarding whether these motions will be ruled on by Yates or by a vote of the Council Court. Steve Haag, the director of the council’s Republican caucus, told IL he isn’t sure how long the pre-trial hearing on the motions will last on Wednesday, but guessed they could take anywhere from one hour to four hours.