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Bevin Lashes Out At Judge Hearing Pension Bill Lawsuit

J. Tyler Franklin

After suffering a minor loss in the lawsuit over Kentucky’s new pension law on Monday, Gov. Matt Bevin lashed out at the judge overseeing the case again, calling him an “incompetent hack.”

On 55KRC radio in Cincinnati Tuesday, Bevin accused Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd of “legislating from the bench” and favoring his opponent in the case, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear.

“We do typically lose in this guy’s court because he’s not really operating a court of law, it’s a court of his opinion,” Bevin said.

On Monday, Shepherd ruled that the governor’s attorney would not be allowed to take depositions from those suing over the new pension law: Beshear, the Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police and the Kentucky Education Association, the statewide teachers union.

The plaintiffs argue that the new law violates contract rights of state workers by reducing retirement benefits for current employees.

The new law, passed by the Republican-led legislature last month, caps the amount of sick leave employees can apply towards retirement at the end of this year and requires employees hired between 2003 and 2008 to pay 1 percent of their salaries for retiree health insurance.

It also moves future teachers into less-generous retirement plans.

Bevin has attacked Shepherd several times in recent years amid a series of legal challenges brought on by Beshear.

In 2016, Shepherd ruled that Bevin didn’t have the power to unanimously overhaul the University of Louisville’s board of trustees — a decision that was ultimately reversed by the Kentucky Supreme Court after the legislature broadened the governor’s reorganization powers.

Shepherd has also decided in favor of Bevin, as he did in 2016 when he ruled the governor could appoint new administrative law judges to ease a backlog of workers' compensation cases.

On Tuesday, Bevin suggested that Kentucky needs to change the way it chooses judges.

“This is why one of the things we need in this state is legal reform," Bevin said. "Because guys like this who don’t take the law seriously should not be sitting on a bench making rulings."

Judges in Kentucky are elected during nonpartisan elections. Lawsuits dealing with state officials, agencies and laws all go to the trial court that includes Frankfort — Franklin Circuit Court — meaning challenges to Bevin’s actions are heard either by Shepherd or Judge Thomas Wingate.

Some lawmakers have suggested allowing the governor to appoint some judges.

Shepherd has said he wants to rule on the pension law challenge before it goes into effect on July 1. The case is expected to eventually be heard by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

This story has been corrected. It previously stated that Judge Shepherd ruled in favor of Bevin in a challenge dealing with the governor’s power to reorganize education boards. That decision came from Judge Thomas Wingate, also of Franklin County Circuit Court.