Whitesburg KY

Judge lets attorney general intervene in retirement suit


A judge says Kentucky’s Democratic attorney general can intervene in a lawsuit against the state’s Republican governor, making three lawsuits between the state’s two highest elected officials.

Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled this week that Andy Beshear can join a lawsuit challenging Gov. Matt Bevin’s decision to remove the former chairman of the troubled Kentucky Retirement Systems. Beshear is also suing Bevin over his decision to replace the University of Louisville board of trustees and to cut the budgets of public colleges and universities without the approval of the state legislature.

Earlier this year, Bevin issued an executive order removing Thomas Elliot as chairman of the retirement systems’ board of trustees. The system is among the worst funded in the country, with unfunded liabilities of more than $19 billion.

Elliott sued, saying Bevin did not have the authority to remove him. Bevin then issued another executive order, abolishing the board and re-establishing it under new rules.

Tuesday, both sides argued in court about whether a judge should block Bevin’s executive orders. Kentucky Retirement Systems Executive Director Bill Thielen testified he believes Bevin’s orders are illegal.

Bevin’s attorney Steve Pitt said state law gives Bevin the authority to abolish any agency in state government and re-create it under new rules to make it more efficient. But Shepherd seemed to question Bevin’s authority to rewrite state law.

Pitt pointed out that former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear used the same law to Kentucky’s health insurance exchange, a decision that was upheld in court. He said the court would set a dangerous precedent to overturn the governor’s order.

Pitt also argued the governor’s orders are “proposals” that the state legislature can approve or reject when it reconvenes in January. But Assistant Deputy Attorney General Mitchel Denham said if Bevin wins, it will give him “unfettered discretion.”

“He would be able to legislate and control for nine months out of the year, and when the legislature comes back to change the law, if they don’t do it, he can do it again,” Denham said.

Shepherd did not rule on Elliot’s request to block Bevin’s order, saying he would review the matter.

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