Politics & Government

Kentucky Senate leader vows to ‘rein in’ judges after pension ruling

Sen. Damon Thayer
Sen. Damon Thayer

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer said he wants to “rein in” judges after the Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously struck down a public pension law Thursday that was backed by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and the GOP-led legislature.

“My regards for the judiciary in Kentucky is at a low point. Too many are liberal activists,” said Thayer, a Republican from Georgetown who was instrumental in passing this year’s pension law, which was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and a Franklin Circuit Court judge.

Thayer, president of a communications and consulting business, said during a telephone interview that he will be “looking at judicial reform in this state.”

He said that might include how judges are elected and the budget for the judicial branch of state government.

Asked if he is seeking retribution for the court’s ruling, Thayer said “both courts poked their fingers in the eyes of our legislative body. It’s a blow to the legislative branch. They need to be reined in.”

Thayer called the high court’s ruling “a terrible one for public retirees and employees and taxpayers.”

He also vowed never to support any of the seven justices who ruled against the pension law, “especially VanMeter and Keller.” He was referring to Laurance VanMeter of Lexington and Michelle Keller of Ft Mitchell, whose Supreme Court district covers part of Thayer’s Senate district.

Bevin said in September 2017 while speaking to The Federalist Society’s chapters in Kentucky that he is open to changing the Kentucky Constitution so that the state’s judges and attorney general are appointed by the governor rather than elected.

“We have a remarkable number of people who have no business being judges. I mean none,” he said at the time. “They don’t have the competence even to be a private practice attorney who can bill at a rate that people would not pay. I’m not kidding.”

He suggested that potential judges first pass “some kind of competency test.”

Kentucky judges are elected by the people, and candidates are listed on the ballot without a label designating party affiliation. The state attorney general is a constitutional office elected by the people.

Another possible legislative action against Franklin Circuit Court is a suggestion by Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, that would allow those filing lawsuits against the state to pursue their cases in circuit courts across the state. Such lawsuits must now be filed in Franklin Circuit Court.

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd has been sharply criticized by Bevin, who called Shepherd an “incompetent hack” after Shepherd ruled against him in the pension lawsuit.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin reacts to the Kentucky Supreme Court's decision to overturn the controversial pension law.

Kentucky Attorney General (and Democratic gubernatorial candidate) Andy Beshear celebrates the Supreme Court overturning a law on pension changes. He and two other groups filed suit after the law was passed.

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