Politics

A judge says Gov. Matt Bevin can appoint six administrative law judges to help deal with a backlog of workers’ compensation cases while a lawsuit over whether the governor can reorganize the board that nominates new judges continues.

The same judge has ruled against Bevin in several decisions, drawing the ire from the governor.

Bevin reorganized the Worker’s Compensation Nominating Commission in May, dismissing seven members appointed by former Gov. Steve Beshear before their terms ended. He later replaced it with a five-person board that he named the Worker’s Compensation Nominating Committee.

A group of labor unions, injured workers and a former commissioner sued Bevin for the move.

And over the summer, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd temporarily blocked the move, calling it a “wholesale firing of duly appointed state officials” and putting the old version of the board back in place.

The injunction has left the court that deals with worker’s compensation claims with six vacancies because the commission doesn’t currently have enough members to constitute a quorum and nominate judges. Bevin has declined to appoint new members while the lawsuit transpires.

On Tuesday, Shepherd decided that it would “elevate form over substance” to continue blocking nominations, which have to be confirmed by the state Senate, and the legislature starts in January.

Bevin’s office said the decision is “welcome news.”

“This decision further supports that the Governor has the legal authority to reorganize executive boards,” Bevin’s press secretary Amanda Stamper said in a statement.

Shepherd did not rule on whether Bevin has the authority to reorganize the board.

Shepherd recently ruled that Bevin didn’t have the authority to reorganize the University of Louisville’s board of trustees. Bevin has repeatedly lashed out at the judge and recently called him a “political hack” on a radio show. The governor has appealed that ruling.

The Worker’s Compensation Nominating Committee nominates administrative law judges to the governor, who then appoints them to oversee workers compensation cases throughout the state.

Bevin reorganized the board saying the move helps alleviate “pay-to-play politics” in the organization.

The governor has similarly reorganized the Kentucky Arts Council, Kentucky Racing Commission and the Kentucky Horse Park Commission, though those moves haven’t been challenged in court.

This story has been updated.

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