LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A day before the Kentucky Board of Education is scheduled to meet in Frankfort, seven former members of the panel asked a federal judge for an injunction and to be returned to their seats as their lawsuit plays out in court.
Covington-based attorney Steven Megerle filed the motion for injunctive relief in U.S. District Court on Monday.
Megerle represents seven of the 11 former members of the state education board, who were dismissed from the board after Gov. Andy Beshear’s reorganization Dec. 10, and the Bluegrass Institute in the case.
A similar lawsuit was filed on behalf of 10 former board members in Franklin Circuit Court, but that case was dismissed as most of the plaintiffs pursued action in federal court.
The ousted board members tried unsuccessfully for an emergency injunction in Franklin Circuit Court and on appeal in the Kentucky Court of Appeals and Kentucky Supreme Court ahead of the newly reconstituted board’s first meeting on Dec. 12, which ended with former Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis’s negotiated resignation.
Megerle argues in his motion for injunctive relief that Beshear’s decision to remove the former board members without cause violates Kentucky law and the state Constitution.
“It is in the public’s interest to reign in the Defendant’s view of his powers at the outset of his administration before the purging of state boards commences in earnest,” Megerle wrote in his motion for an emergency injunction.
He told WDRB News that Beshear did not give his clients due process before their removal from the Kentucky Board of Education.
"I believe that bringing a federal cause of action is most appropriate in a federal court, not a state court," Megerle said in a phone interview. "I have always found that a federal court is a much less political tribunal than some state courts."
"One of the purposes of the case is to make sure that all elected officials, even the governor, follow the appropriate and legal procedures with regard to independent, robust agencies such as the board of education," he added, noting that Beshear was the first governor to reorganize the panel since the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 became law.
Megerle contends that the power to reconstitute statutory boards and commissions lies with the General Assembly.
But the Kentucky Supreme Court reaffirmed the reorganization powers wielded by governors in a case Beshear brought against former Gov. Matt Bevin when he served as attorney general.
The high court upheld the legality of Bevin’s reorganization of various education-oriented boards in that case. Beshear has consistently relied on that ruling as proof that he can reconstitute the Kentucky Board of Education by executive order.
"The Kentucky Supreme Court has said the governor has the authority to reorganize the board," Beshear spokeswoman Crystal Staley said in a statement Monday.
"The statutes governing the board are designed so the governor can select the very best, which he did including a superintendent of the year, an inductee into the National Teaching Hall of Fame and a former president of the University of Kentucky. The governor’s reorganization was required to remedy the former administration’s hiring of a supporter as commissioner instead of conducting a national search to find the very best."
Beshear’s reorganization of the state education board drew swift criticism from Republican lawmakers, who took umbrage at the governor’s lack of GOP appointees. Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, has said he plans to file a bill that would prohibit governors from reorganizing the board and set demographic makeup requirements, such as race and political registration, for the panel.
The Kentucky Board of Education is scheduled to meet at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in Frankfort.
The lawsuit has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove.
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