Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd | Photo by Joe Sonka
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd | Photo by Joe Sonka

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled Wednesday that Gov. Matt Bevin did not have the legal authority to issue executive orders abolishing and recreating the University of Louisville Board of Trustees this summer, thus permanently blocking the new board the governor created and reinstating the one he abolished.

The lawsuit challenging Bevin’s orders was filed by Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, who issued a statement praising the ruling and calling on the governor to immediately fill vacancies on the board or appeal the case to the state’s highest court.

“We appreciate Judge Shepherd’s urgency in issuing a final decision in this case,” said Beshear. “What our students and faculty need now is finality. That is why I am calling on Gov. Bevin to either accept the ruling and appoint trustees to the five openings, or agree to move this case immediately to the Kentucky Supreme Court.”

Bevin’s spokeswoman Amanda Stamper issued a statement indicating that the governor’s general counsel is still taking the time to review the ruling before announcing their next steps.

In July, Shepherd issued a temporary injunction that blocked Bevin’s new board from meeting and reinstated the old board, but today’s ruling makes that permanent. The reinstated board has met several times since that injunction, though it currently is prohibited from making major personnel decisions due to a legal settlement in March over its lack of racial minority members. In that settlement, Bevin agreed to appoint two minorities as soon as possible so it could take such actions, but he has not yet done so.

There are currently three vacancies and two trustees with expired terms on UofL’s board. Bevin and his attorneys have criticized this board for its lack of Republican members, though if five Republican trustees were appointed by the governor it would near the legally required parity required by state law.

Judge Shepherd directly addressed that issue in his ruling, stating that Bevin “is currently under a legal obligation, which he has not fulfilled, to appoint additional minority members of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees.”

“A time honored maxim of the law of equity is ‘he who seeks equity must do equity,'” stated Shepherd. “The Governor has an adequate remedy at law for any non-compliance with the minority and political party representation requirements on the University of Louisville Board of Trustees. All he needs to do is to exercise his power of appointment to bring the Board into compliance. He has the authority to bring the Board into compliance on minority members immediately.”

UofL trustee Brucie Moore — who also serves as chair of the UofL Foundation board — issued a statement declaring that she thought Shepherd’s ruling “followed the law,” adding “I respectfully request that Governor Bevin use his authority to immediately fill the five existing vacancies on the Board of Trustees.”

“At the very least, I encourage Governor Bevin to make those two appointments so the Board of Trustees can begin the critical business of searching for a new University President,” stated Moore. “Finding a new leader for UofL is too important to the campus community, city, and commonwealth to be delayed. Governor Bevin can make these appointments and still maintain his arguments should he decide to appeal this ruling.”

The UofL Student Senate also recently passed a unanimous resolution asking Bevin to do the same and fill the vacancies on the board as soon as possible.

The text message allegedly sent from Gov. Matt Bevin to Attorney General Andy Beshear Tuesday night.
The text message allegedly sent from Gov. Matt Bevin to Attorney General Andy Beshear Tuesday night.

In a press conference addressing Shepherd’s ruling Wednesday afternoon, Beshear said that the governor should respect the courts and refrain from issuing press releases with partisan attacks. To that point, Beshear claimed that Bevin sent him “a nasty text message” Tuesday night calling his office an “embarrassment” to the state. The attorney general said that was the first time Bevin had ever sent him a text message, “and being the adult in the room, I did not respond.”

The text — released by Beshear’s office after the press conference — reads: “I would strongly suggest that you get your house in order. Your office is becoming an increasing embarrassment to the Commonwealth.”

Bevin also lost a case in the Kentucky Supreme Court last week dealing with his executive orders on higher education, with the court ruling 5-2 that the governor did not have to authority to enact mid-year cuts to the appropriations of public colleges and universities. Bevin strongly criticized that ruling and said that “partisanship” is creeping into Kentucky’s court system.

This story will be updated.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]