The hearing that will determine whether Jefferson County Public Schools will be taken over by the state will be presided over by a former assistant state attorney general who is now an attorney in the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.
Elizabeth Heilman, who since 2013 has served as an Environmental Administrative Hearing Officer with the EEC, was appointed last week by the Kentucky Board of Education to preside over the JCPS hearing, according to a document provided to Insider by the Kentucky Department of Education.
The date of the hearing has not been set. While there is no deadline by which the hearing has to be scheduled, Kentucky Interim Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis has said that he would like to have it take place “as soon as possible.”
Lewis on April 30 recommended that the state take over management of JCPS because of “a pattern of significant lack of efficiency and effectiveness within JCPS.” The district on May 29 decided to challenge that recommendation.
The two parties will present their cases before Heilman. The decision rests with the Kentucky Board of Education.
According to the document provided to Insider by the KDE, Heilman “shall schedule a telephonic conference to discuss the administrative hearing process, timelines, date and location of the hearing, and other questions of the parties.”
JCPS would not tell Insider whether Heilman had reached out to the district. A JCPS spokeswoman told Insider via email only that the district would “be working with the hearing officer to schedule a date.”
Insider emailed Heilman to request an interview, but the cabinet’s spokesman replied that “we are going to decline an interview at this time.”
According to a bio the spokesman provided, Heilman graduated from the University of Kentucky College of Law in 1991 and is admitted to practice law in Kentucky, the state’s federal courts, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Before her current assignment in the EEC, Heilman spent seven years as a hearing officer and administrative law judge for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, presiding over hearings such as the Visiting Nurse Association of Southwestern Indiana planning to expand home health services to Daviess County, and American Home Healthcare Services Inc. planning to establish a home health agency to serve Oldham County.
“Heilman began her legal career as an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney prosecuting felony cases in Jefferson County,” the spokesman told Insider via email. “She then entered private practice with the firm of Berry & Floyd, PSC, and then opened a solo practice while acting as an Assistant Carroll County Attorney.
“Heilman left private practice in 1999, becoming an Assistant Attorney General focusing on appellate practice, and later joined the Justice Cabinet serving as a Deputy General Counsel,” the email read.
According to its website, the cabinet oversees how the state addresses energy needs, “from our historic coal operations and seeking ways in which to mine and deliver that mineral more safely and cleanly, or developing stringent regulations that make certain Kentucky’s natural beauty is not harmed.”
Heilman appears to be an infrequent contributor to political campaigns, according to state and federal election records. The Kentucky Registry of Election Finance shows that in 2003, Elizabeth Heilman, of Campbellsburg, an attorney with the office of Attorney General Ben Chandler, a Democrat, contributed $250 to the campaign of Ernie Fletcher, a Republican who would become Kentucky’s 60th governor that year, defeating Chandler.
Essentially, Heilman supported Fletcher, a Republican, while working for his opponent, Chandler, a Democrat. Heilman joined Fletcher’s administration that following July, as part of the legal team for the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.
The KDE had initially asked the office of Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear to provide an attorney who could preside over a potential JCPS hearing, but the AG’s office told the KDE that “due to our current vacant hearing officer position, we do not have the capacity to take on the hearing,” according to an email chain provided to Insider by the AG’s office.
Interestingly, the request for the hearing officer came from KDE General Counsel Kevin Brown in mid-May, so about two weeks before JCPS decided to challenge Lewis’ decision. Brown has since resigned from the KDE.