Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd has granted Attorney General Andy Beshear’s request to temporarily block Gov. Matt Bevin’s overhaul of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees.
In a 22-page order issued Friday morning, the judge said Beshear has demonstrated “a probability of irreparable injury, presented a substantial question as to the merits, and the equities are in favor of issuance” of a temporary injunction.
He added: “Most importantly, the governor’s unilateral action raises profound issues regarding the statutes on governance of public universities and the separation of powers under the Kentucky Constitution.”
Shepherd said in his order that Bevin’s appointment of replacement members and their authority to act is temporarily blocked pending a final judgment in the lawsuit.
He also criticized Bevin for issuing an executive order June 17 that abolished the U of L Board of Trustees and created a smaller board without consulting the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which handles the university’s accreditation.
The actions of the governor and his appointees “could cause substantial disruption that would be difficult or impossible” to undo, Shepherd wrote.
The new board this week accepted the resignation of Jim Ramsey as president.
In a footnote of his ruling, Shepherd said his ruling does not affect that action, leaving Ramsey’s resignation in effect.
“There was no injunctive order from this court restricting the newly-appointed board from taking such action, and the court perceives no conflict between the newly-appointed board’s action and the court’s ruling today,” Shepherd wrote.
Louisville businessman Larry Benz, who was chairman of the prior U of L board, said the old board “will move to immediately ratify all actions taken in the past week by Gov. Bevin’s appointed board of trustees.”
He said he hopes to schedule a meeting early next week, adding: “We hope that all litigation is resolved quickly so that focus can return to the students and moving the University of Louisville forward.”
Bevin will appeal the circuit court order, said Amanda Stamper, his press secretary. He has 20 days to do that.
“The circuit court ignored binding precedent from the Kentucky Court of Appeals, the plain language of the statute at issue and a recent opinion from the office of the attorney general, that the governor has authority to propose and temporarily implement the reorganization of the University of Louisville’s Board of Trustees,” she said, referring to a stance taken by former Attorney General Jack Conway in a legal opinion.
Stamper added: “The court’s abrupt altering of the status quo, just as the newly constituted university board has begun to take constructive steps to put the university on a solid path forward, is neither in the best interest of the university nor the public.”
Beshear, in a statement, called the court ruling “a win for Kentucky students, their families and our public universities.”
“The governor does not have ‘absolute authority’ to ignore the constitution and Kentucky law,” Beshear said. “I will continue my job of enforcing our constitution’s separation of powers so that no one branch of government, regardless of who leads it, has absolute power.”
A U of L spokesperson said the university has no plans to issue a statement about the ruling “since the university was not a party in the lawsuit.”
Shepherd held a hearing July 23 on Beshear’s request for a temporary injunction. The Democratic attorney general’s office disagreed with attorneys of the Republican governor on whether Bevin had the authority to overhaul the board.
Shepherd has not yet ruled on a request for a temporary injunction to block changes Bevin made to the Kentucky Retirement Systems’ governing board.
The Kentucky Supreme Court will hear arguments next month on another suit against Bevin involving his budget cuts last fiscal year to public universities and colleges.