Politics

After Gov. Matt Bevin appealed a ruling that blocked his overhaul of the University of Louisville board of trustees, Attorney General Andy Beshear has requested that the case be fast-tracked to the state’s highest court.

Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled in October that Bevin’s reorganization of the U of L board was illegal, saying that the governor didn’t have the authority to unilaterally dismantle a public university board and remove all of its members in the process.

Bevin’s appeal would send the case to the Kentucky Court of Appeals, but Beshear asked that the case go straight to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

In his motion, Beshear said the case needs to be resolved because Bevin has refused to fill vacancies on the board while the case is on appeal. He also cited concerns that U of L could lose its accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for “undue political influence.”

Bevin reorganized the U of L board by executive order in June, replacing it with a smaller board made up of new members. Beshear sued Bevin over the move, which has now been blocked, putting the former version of the board back in place.

Bevin maintains that he has authority to dismantle the board and that its ongoing meetings are illegal, while refusing to fill vacancies.

He also says that the board is illegally constituted because its membership doesn’t meet political and racial thresholds — it has too few Republicans and racial minorities.

Bevin’s version of the board could be put in place after the legislature goes back into session on Jan. 3 when the newly Republican-controlled legislature will have the opportunity to weigh in.

Beshear said the case has caused acrimony between the governor’s office and the judiciary that needed be resolved by an expedited decision.

“Governor Bevin has attacked judges connected to the case, calling them “political hacks” or claiming they want to serve as Governor from the bench,” Beshear said in the motion to transfer the case to the state Supreme Court. “This acrimony is best resolved – and additional acrimony is best avoided – by moving directly to the Supreme Court.”

Earlier this month, Bevin lashed out at Shepherd during an interview with Terry Meiners on WHAS Radio.

“Really and truly, this judge has been a political hack his entire life,” Bevin said. “He has been and he still is — now, from the bench. The Franklin Circuit Court is sadly not what it ought to be in regards to jurisprudence. It’s a joke.”

Shepherd’s decisions against Bevin have used scathing language. In his ruling against the U of L overhaul, Shepherd said the governor removed board members by “executive fiat” and when the governor protested, saying he didn’t remove board members but rather abolished the board, Shepherd said the argument “defies common sense, and the basic rules of English grammar.”

The Kentucky Supreme Court recently ruled against Bevin’s mid-year budget cuts to state higher education institutions.

Bevin disagreed with the reasoning of the ruling. At the time, Bevin’s press secretary Amanda Stamper said it was “both a legal and moral obligation” to make the cuts in order to help preserve state retirement systems.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.