A judge has ruled that Gov. Matt Bevin had the authority to fire two staffers who worked for Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton earlier this year.
Hampton sued to try and reverse Bevin’s move earlier this year, arguing that she is an independent constitutional officer who has sole authority to hire and fire her own staff.
But Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd disagreed in a ruling on Friday, saying that Hampton’s office is subordinate to Bevin’s.
“The Office of Lieutenant Governor has no employees assigned to it by statute,” Shepherd wrote. “Accordingly, the employees assigned to assist the Lieutenant Governor are included within the personnel of the Office of the Governor. The Governor therefore has superseding authority to hire and fire the employees who are assigned to the Lieutenant Governor’s staff.”
Hampton has clashed with Bevin since he decided to not select her to be on his reelection ticket this year, instead picking state Sen. Ralph Alvarado.
Bevin fired Hampton’s chief of staff Steve Knipper earlier this year after Knipper filed to run for secretary of state. The Bevin administration cited a policy requiring non-merit employees to resign if they run for elected office.
Then in May, the administration fired Hampton’s deputy chief of staff Adrienne Southworth. Bevin’s chief of staff Blake Brickman said he authorized the dismissal, arguing that she “repeatedly demonstrated poor judgement.”
In the ruling, Shepherd wrote that Hampton appears to have “discharged all of her assigned duties with dignity, loyalty and honor,” but that hiring and firing powers are exclusively delegated to the governor.
“The record indicates that past Governors have entrusted their Lieutenant Governors with the authority to hire and fire staff members assigned to them,” Shepherd wrote.
“The record here contains no explanation as to why Governor Bevin has not accorded Lieutenant Governor Hampton such basic authority over the operation of her own office. Nevertheless, the Lieutenant Governor has only those duties and powers assigned by the General Assembly or delegated by the Governor.”
When Bevin and Hampton won their election in 2015, Hampton became the first African American elected to a statewide office in Kentucky.
Before that, Hampton worked as an executive in the packaging industry, was an unsuccessful candidate for the state House of Representatives and was active in Bowling Green’s Tea Party movement.
Kentucky governors and lieutenant governors have run as a slate since a 1992 amendment of the state constitution.