Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton vowed Thursday to continue her legal fight against Gov. Matt Bevin for dismissing two of her three staffers even though she has less than three months left in office.
“Absolutely, this is too important,” Hampton said after a pre-trial conference in Franklin Circuit Court to set a court schedule for her lawsuit against Bevin.
Hampton said she remains active as the state’s No. 2 elected official and needs the help of her staffers.
Hampton’s term as lieutenant governor ends when the next lieutenant governor is sworn into office on Dec. 10.
That will be either Republican Ralph Alvarado of Winchester, whom Bevin chose to be his running mate this year instead of Hampton, or Democrat Jacqueline Coleman of Mercer County, who is running with Attorney General Andy Beshear.
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd set oral arguments in Hampton’s lawsuit for 3 p.m. Oct 18. The losing party could appeal, meaning Hampton’s legal challenge may run well after the Dec. 10 inauguration of the new lieutenant governor.
Asked Thursday what will she do if the lawsuit is not completed before her term in office ends, Hampton said “we will have to see.”
Hampton’s attorney, Josh Harp, said he hopes Shepherd grants a permanent injunction in October that would allow the staffers to work for Hampton for the rest of her term.
“Time is of the essence,” he said.
That seems unlikely, since Shepherd denied Hampton’s request for a temporary injunction earlier this week, saying she had failed to find a statutory basis for her argument that she has the power to hire and fire her own staff.
Shepherd on Thursday allowed Hampton time to seek out more information and file more motions.
Hampton sued Bevin and the Personnel Cabinet in August, claiming 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.
Bevin’s general counsel, Steve Pitt, has argued that the lieutenant governor does not have that power.
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.
Bevin’s chief of staff, Blake Brickman, has said he authorized Southworth’s dismissal for “remarkably poor judgment in a number of ways.”
Knipper and Southworth have appealed their dismissals to the Personnel Board, which is scheduled to take up Southworth’s case Friday. Personnel board executive director Mark Sipek said Thursday that Knipper has asked for his case to be delayed because of health reasons.