Politics & Government

Judge denies Bevin’s request to disqualify Beshear in U of L board suit

Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd
Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd jbrammer@herald-leader.com

After a nearly four-hour hearing Thursday, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd did not immediately rule on Attorney General Andy Beshear’s legal challenge of Gov. Matt Bevin’s overhaul of the governing board of the University of Louisville.

But Shepherd denied a request by Bevin’s attorneys to disqualify Beshear from the case. He said there was no basis for such disqualification.

Chad Meredith, one of the Republican governor’s attorneys, argued that Beshear’s suit against the governor contradicted an opinion issued last September by then-Attorney General Jack Conway. In a footnote, Conway said the governor does have the authority to reorganize a university’s board.

Meredith also said Beshear’s action was in violation of the state’s ethic codes for attorneys.

“We have to have the confidence that the office will stick to its word,” said Meredith.

Shepherd noted that the advisory opinion was not issued by Beshear.

The court hearing ended shortly before the new U of L board was to begin an emergency meeting to consider the university’s budget and tuition rates. It also was to go into closed session for a business issue.

Last week at its first meeting, the new board did not act on President James Ramsey’s offer to resign.

Bevin general counsel Steve Pitt said a court ruling against the governor would not invalidate actions taken by the new board.

But Assistant Deputy Attorney General Mitchel Denham said that would depend on the wording of the judge’s ruling.

Shepherd said he knows one side will be disappointed with his ruling. It can, and most likely will, be appealed to a higher court.

Most of Thursday’s hearing dealt with legal arguments on Bevin’s order last month to replace all of the U of L board members.

Beshear’s attorneys said the governor lacks the legal authority to do that, but Bevin’s attorneys said the law gives him that authority and the university needed “a fresh start.”

The only witness Thursday was Connie Shumate, U of L’s assistant provost for accreditation. She talked about concerns about the impact of Bevin’s orders but said there was no immediate risk to the university’s accreditation.

The university, which joined the state’s higher education system in 1970, has an operating budget of about $1.2 billion,with about 10 percent of that coming from state funds, and about 22,000 students.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics