FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton has denied Gov. Matt Bevin's request to remove the judge hearing the lawsuit challenging the pension reform bill.

The ruling clears the way for Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd to hear testimony in the case on Thursday. 

Bevin's legal team filed a motion on Tuesday asking Minton to appoint a special judge to decide the pension case and to remove Shepherd. Bevin's attorney Steve Pitt argued in the motion that Shepherd cannot be unbiased, because he is enrolled in the pension system and could be affected by the changes.

Attorney General Andy Beshear is suing to block the pension reform bill, SB 151, which Bevin signed into law. He called Bevin's move,“disrespectful of our entire judicial system.”

Beshear said the move was a stall tactic that came at the expense of 200,000 public employees who are trying to make retirement plans.

“People are upset, and they deserve a quick and final ruling, because at least some of the provisions will go into effect in July,” Beshear said. “I think, out of respect for those families, we ought to have that decision.”

Bevin's office did not respond to request for comment but, in the motion, Pitt said the move is "not intended to delay this matter" but to ensure a "full and fair hearing."

Shepherd is the same judge Bevin insulted in a radio interview last month.

“I now have the most incompetent hack of a judge -- I don't know if in Kentucky -- but certainly one of the worst,” Bevin told Brian Thomas of WKRC radio in Cincinnati on May 8. “This guy is now legislating from the bench.”

Beshear said Bevin was grasping at straws since Shepherd earlier denied several of his motions.

“It suggests judge-shopping," Beshear said. "If you're not getting the results that you want early on, try to get a new judge. I don't think that's allowed."

Opponents of the pension reform bill plan to hold a rally outside the Franklin County Courthouse before Thursday's hearing.

Also on Wednesday, State Budget Director John Chilton raised the stakes in the legal battle. Chilton sent a letter to employers in the County Employee Retirement System (CERS) warning that Beshear’s lawsuit threatened to invalidate not only SB 151 but also HB 362, a bill that would phase in increased employer contributions over time.

“The invalidation of HB 362 will have an immediate disastrous effect on CERS employers in the next fiscal year that begins next month,” Chilton wrote.

Chilton further wrote that Bevin's attorneys are “fighting diligently” to uphold both bills.

Here is Minton's full decision:

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