Judge blocks Gov. Matt Bevin's move abolishing University of Louisville board
In an order issued Friday morning, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd wrote that the governor’s raises “profound issues regarding the statutes on governance of public universities and the separation of powers under the Kentucky Constitution.”
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A judge has ruled in favor of Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear and temporarily blocked Gov. Matt Bevin’s reorganization of the University of Louisville’s board of trustees.
In a ruling issued Friday morning, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd wrote that the governor’s move raises “profound issues regarding the statutes on governance of public universities and the separation of powers under the Kentucky Constitution.”
The order lets stand the resignation this week of James Ramsey, who had been U of L’s president since 2002, and it reinstates the university’s previous board.
But the dispute between Beshear and Bevin appears far from settled. The governor’s office indicated it would appeal, and Beshear told reporters Friday afternoon in Frankfort that the case is likely headed to the Kentucky Supreme Court.
Citing “dysfunction” and the need for a more efficient U of L board, Bevin abolished the panel on June 17 in an executive order that created a new board with 10 appointed members, rather than the 17 set by state law.
In his ruling, Shepherd concluded that Bevin sidestepped a Kentucky law requiring that trustees get a hearing with the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education before they can be removed. State law says the governor can remove board members for cause, such as “neglect of duty or malfeasance in office,” but only after such a hearing.
The judge said he acted to “preserve the proper checks and balances” over executive and legislative powers in Kentucky.
Bevin’s attorneys had argued that the governor had the right to reconstitute the board because it occurred between sessions of the Kentucky General Assembly, noting that the changes will go before lawmakers when they meet again next year.
But Shepherd wrote that there are “serious questions” about the governor wielding such “legislative power.”
“The theory of executive power advanced by the Governor grants one person unlimited discretion to completely restructure every public institution in this Commonwealth, to vitiate all statutes setting forth requirements for governing boards, and to suspend statutes without any meaningful legislative or judicial oversight,” the order says.
Amanda Stamper, Bevin’s press secretary, said in a statement that the judge ignored legal precedent, an opinion from former Attorney General Jack Conway and the law itself.
“The Court’s abrupt altering of the status quo, just as the newly constituted University Board has begun to take constructive steps to put the University on a solid path forward, is neither in the best interest of the University nor the public,” Stamper said.
“We are very confident that this temporary injunction is just that – temporary – and will be reversed on appeal,” she said.
Shepherd’s ruling doesn’t appear to affect Ramsey’s resignation. The judge said in a footnote that he finds “no conflict” between the board’s action and his order.
A university spokeswoman declined comment because U of L is not named in the lawsuit. She referred questions to Beshear’s office.
Beshear said at a press conference Friday that he has “no intention” of challenging Ramsey’s resignation.
He said the injunction is “a win for Kentucky students, their families and our public universities and colleges. No governor has the absolute authority to ignore our Constitution or our statutes on the books.”
The U of L board had grown increasingly divisive before Bevin’s reorganization, leading to public disputes over Ramsey’s fate and the university’s nonprofit foundation.
Chairman Larry Benz said in a statement that the board could meet early next week, and he expects it will ratify the actions taken by Bevin’s board.
In March, the board and Bevin settled a lawsuit brought by Louisville’s Justice Resource Center over the racial makeup of the board. The agreement, however, prohibits trustees from taking “any structural or other significant actions” before it meets the law’s requirements.
Benz did not immediately return a phone message Friday afternoon.
In a separate statement released Friday, Stamper accused Beshear of protecting a board of trustees that “doesn’t even pretend to meet the statutory obligations set forth by the Kentucky General Assembly, including the political party representation.”
“These violations could not have been fixed by filling the old board’s vacancies,” she said.
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