Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd directed Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin and Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton or their designees Monday to try to resolve outside the courtroom her lawsuit claiming his administration did not have the authority to dismiss two of her three staffers.
That appears to be a difficult task for the parties involved.
During Monday’s 90-minute hearing before Shepherd, Bevin’s general counsel, Steve Pitt, called the lawsuit “a minor disagreement between friends.”
After the hearing, Hampton said to reporters, “My friends don’t treat me this way.”
She said she does not know why she is the only state constitutional officer who has “to fight for people.”
Hampton’s lawyer, Joshua Harp of Frankfort, said Hampton is willing to explore a resolution “but we don’t know if that is possible.”
Pitt said he did not know what to expect from negotiations or if the governor will have time in his busy schedule over the next few weeks to talk about a resolution with the lieutenant governor.
“Certainly someone with authority will,” said Pitt.
In a 12-page suit Hampton filed Thursday against Bevin and the Personnel Cabinet, Hampton asked the court to declare that she — as a constitutionally elected officer of the state — is empowered by the law to appoint staff to her office and to block the governor from interfering with her appointment power.
Pitt argued Monday that the lieutenant governor does not have that power. He based much of his argument on the 1992 constitutional amendment that allowed governors to seek a second, consecutive term and required them to run with a running mate instead of individually.
Harp argued that Hampton is a constitutionally elected officer in her own right and has the authority to hire and fire her staff.
The Bevin administration fired Hampton’s chief of staff, Steve Knipper, in January for refusing to follow its policy of leaving state government when he decided to run in May’s Republican primary election for secretary of state. He was unsuccessful in the election.
The Bevin administration then fired Adrienne Southworth, Hampton’s deputy chief of staff, in May. Southworth said she didn’t know why she was fired, but she had been investigating Knipper’s dismissal.
Knipper and Southworth have appealed their dismissals to the Personnel Board, which is to take up their cases Sept. 13. They were in the audience at Monday’s court hearing.
Bevin’s chief of staff, Blake Brickman, has said he authorized Southworth’s dismissal for “remarkably poor judgment in a number of ways.”
Hampton talked to reporters at length after Monday’s court hearing. She usually has had little to say to the media.
She said she interviewed each of her staffers and determined their salaries and raises.
Hampton, of Bowling Green, said she needs Knipper and Southworth to help her with projects to curb youth suicide and introduce middle school girls to professional women in science, technology, engineering and math careers.
Hampton said she does not know if her lawsuit against Bevin will hurt his re-election chances in a tight race against Democratic nominee Andy Beshear, the state’s attorney general.
“The person who initiated these firings should have thought of that before doing so,” she said.
Hampton said she backs Bevin in the race. “But he’s got to get out there and make a case for himself,” she said. “I’ve not been asked to campaign for him at all. He and Sen. Alvarado are certainly on the trail.”
Bevin chose state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, to be his running mate this year instead of Hampton.
She said Monday that Bevin told her he was picking Alvarado because of his legislative experience.
Asked about her comment after Southworth was fired that “dark forces” were behind it, Hampton said, “I had no clue who was behind this. It certainly smacks of a vindictiveness. I didn’t know who decided this, who did this.”