Kentucky’s top attorney says recent moves by Governor Matt Bevin’s legal team suggest the Republican is “judge shopping” in the case against the General Assembly's 2018 pension reforms.
Franklin Circuit Judge Philip Shepherd sits at the center of the current debate.
Attorneys for Bevin want him taken off the pension case, arguing his membership in the state judicial retirement system creates a conflict of interest. After unsuccessfully seeking his voluntary recusal, the governor’s legal team is now asking Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton to dismiss Shepherd from the case and install a special judge not eligible for a conventional defined-benefit pension.
Wednesday, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear told reporters it’s “extremely rare” for a party to make such a request.
"It suggests judicial or judge shopping," the top law enforcement official said. "If you're not getting the results you want early on, try to get a new judge, and I don't think that's allowed."
Bevin’s lawyers submit that a fresh judge is necessary to ensure a fair hearing.
Blake Brickman, the governor’s chief of staff, wrote in an affidavit that Shepherd has a “personal bias or prejudice concerning the parties and has expressed an opinion concerning the merits of the proceeding without the benefit of formal briefing or a hearing.”
On Twitter, Brickman added that a win for Beshear could cause chaos by invalidating thousands of laws passed by the General Assembly in 2018.
In challenging the constitutionality of the pension law, the attorney general's suit against SB 151 claims, among other potential violations, that the legislation is invalid because it was not signed by the House speaker. House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne presided over chamber business for the 2018 session, taking over for Rep. Jeff Hoover, who resigned in early January.
Shepherd had been slated to hear oral arguments in the pension case Thursday. That hear could be delayed if Chief Justice Minton doesn't deliver a decision before the scheduled proceedings.