FRANKFORT (AP) — Gov. Matt Bevin says he will appeal the latest court ruling blocking one of his executive orders in yet another sign of mounting tensions between an elected Kentucky judge and the state’s Republican governor.
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd has now temporarily blocked three of Bevin’s executive orders as part of the new governor’s aggressive makeover of state government. The latest came late Monday afternoon, when Shepherd ruled Bevin was wrong to remove Thomas Elliott from the Kentucky Retirement Systems board of trustees and threaten him with arrest, calling it a “flagrant abuse of executive power.”
Shepherd has also blocked Bevin’s orders abolishing and replacing the Workers Compensation Nominating Commission and the University of Louisville board of trustees.
Shepherd’s latest ruling did uphold one of Bevin’s executive orders that reorganized the Kentucky Retirement Systems board. But on Tuesday, Bevin’s attorney Steve Pitt said he was certain he would appeal Shepherd’s ruling regarding Elliott’s position on the board.
Elliott did not attend a meeting of the retirement systems investment committee on Tuesday, but committee chairman David Eager said Elliott would have been seated and allowed to participate if he had attended. Six board members were sworn in for new terms on Tuesday after Shepherd ruled the board could continue to meet.
Eager said the legal uncertainties won’t deter the board from taking action.
“We’ve got our roles defined right now, and we’re not going to miss a beat,” Eager said.
Bevin has been critical of Shepherd’s rulings, telling WHAS radio last week that Shepherd “overstepped himself” when he blocked Bevin’s order abolishing and replacing the University of Louisville board of trustees. Bevin said Shepherd has been “trying to walk it back and ask me to work out a negotiation.”
Shepherd appeared frustrated with Bevin’s comments during a brief status conference hearing on Tuesday after Bevin’s attorney asked the judge to delay the next scheduled hearing in the university lawsuit.
“It’s a little, I think, concerning to the court when the court is being criticized for slowing down the process … and we’re now in a position where the governor is asking for a delay,” Shepherd said, adding he was ready to decide the case.
Shepherd later granted Pitt’s request for a delay to allow him to find another expert witness after the first one pulled out for “circumstances beyond pretty much his control and certainly beyond my control,” Pitt said.
Last week, Bevin said the new board of trustees he appointed to run the University of Louisville should continue to meet, despite Shepherd’s ruling temporarily stripping them of its authority.
Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear said Bevin’s comments encouraged the defiance of a court order.
“The governor has never urged defiance of the court’s order,” Pitt told reporters Tuesday. “The governor recognizes the court has stated, at least temporarily, what the law is and has never intended to encourage anyone to defy the court’s order.”