Bill Allowing State Agencies To Sidestep Franklin Circuit Court 'On Life Support'

Mar 12, 2019

A bill that could shift lawsuits against state agencies and officials out of Franklin Circuit Court — avoiding a judge Republicans have criticized — is losing steam late in the 2019 legislative session. Senate Bill 2 was yanked without comment from committee Tuesday.

Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) speaks with reporters on March 12, 2019.
Credit Josh James / WUKY

Backed by the Senate's top Republican, SB 2 would permit state agencies to request that their cases be heard by a randomly-selected judge. But concerns about pulling in judges from far flung Kentucky counties are helping sink the idea.

"I would say it's probably on life support," Senate President Robert Stivers says.

The Manchester Republican has been open about his frustration with one Franklin Circuit judge in particular, Phillip Shepherd, who struck down the state's pensions reforms on procedural grounds last year.

"Judges judge, they don't practice," Stivers told reporters. "It has become apparent that this judge has tended to practice instead of judging the cases."

The senator reports House members were uncertain whether the bill had enough purchase in the chamber, but he added that there is "still work being done it" — though the odds get slimmer as the session winds down.

Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton took the rare step of testifying in committee against the measure in February.

"Shuttling judges from across the state to hear cases in the Franklin Circuit would create a major financial burden on the judiciary," Minton said, "and potentially favor state officials."

Three working days remain in the 2019 session.