Politics & Government

Bevin to appeal ruling that blocks removal of pension board member

Steve Pitt, general counsel to Gov. Matt Bevin, told reporters Tuesday that Bevin will appeal a judge’s ruling that blocks him from removing a pension board member.
Steve Pitt, general counsel to Gov. Matt Bevin, told reporters Tuesday that Bevin will appeal a judge’s ruling that blocks him from removing a pension board member. jbrammer@herald-leader.com

Gov. Matt Bevin will appeal a ruling by a state judge that blocked the governor’s removal of Thomas Elliott from the Kentucky Retirement Systems governing board, Bevin’s general counsel, Steve Pitt, said Tuesday.

Pitt told reporters that he is certain the Republican governor will appeal “the judicial appointment” of Elliott to the state pension board. Pitt was speaking after a pre-trial conference hearing in Franklin Circuit Court on a lawsuit challenging Bevin’s reorganization of the University of Louisville board.

Late Monday, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd temporarily blocked Bevin’s removal of Elliott from the board that oversees retirement benefits for state workers. Shepherd said that Elliott, the previous board chairman, appointed by former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, may stay on as a member of the board but that Bevin’s choice of chairman and vice chairman will preside.

Shepherd also said Bevin could reorganize the board except appointing a replacement for Elliott until a final court decision is made.

Elliott had claimed in a lawsuit that Bevin, a Republican, didn’t have the authority to remove him from the panel. Attorney General Andy Beshear joined in Elliott’s cause.

Pitt said Tuesday that Elliott was removed from a board that was abolished by Bevin and that the court, in its Monday order, had recognized that it had been abolished.

The governor’s office said in a statement it is confident that the Kentucky Court of Appeals will reaffirm that Elliott is not a member of the new pension board.

It also took a swipe at Elliott, saying that under his chairmanship, the state retirement systems “had an abysmal track record and operated under a shroud of secrecy.”

It said Beshear “should drop his politically motivated lawsuits and stop his efforts to fight transparency and protect the status quo. Our state workers and retirees deserve better.”

Beshear said Tuesday he won’t appeal Shepherd’s ruling. “Kentucky retirees deserve a final decision on this matter. Filing appeals would merely slow down the process and delay that decision.”

He said Monday night that Shepherd “recognized the important and legitimate questions my office has raised about the governor’s authority to reorganize the KRS board.”

Elliott’s attorney, Kevin L. Chlarson, said it has not yet been determined whether Elliott will appeal Shepherd’s ruling.

In another matter, Shepherd held a 31-minute hearing Tuesday to set the court schedule on a lawsuit initiated by Beshear that questions Bevin’s overhaul of the U of L Board of Trustees.

Last month, the judge granted Beshear’s request to temporarily block Bevin’s changes, and Bevin has appealed that ruling.

Shepherd said Tuesday that he was concerned about the impact of the governor’s changes on the university’s accreditation.

Pitt informed the court that an expert witness he had scheduled to testify would not be able to participate. He asked the judge to continue the hearing for a few weeks.

Shepherd gave Pitt and the attorney general’s office until Friday to come up with their witnesses. He said he wanted to hold a hearing on the merits of the case within the first two weeks of September.

Jack Brammer: 502-227-1198, @BGPolitics