FRANKFORT — Gov. Matt Bevin lost another round in court Friday when a Franklin Circuit Judge declined to vacate or amend his earlier ruling that Bevin could not abolish the University of Louisville Board of Trustees.
Attorneys for Bevin asked Judge Phillip Shepherd to revise his ruling in September that Bevin exceeded his authority to abolish the U of L board and create a new one, claiming Shepherd misinterpreted a Supreme Court ruling and erred it his interpretation of the facts in the case.
But in Friday’s ruling denying the motion and making his earlier opinion final, Shepherd wrote that after examining the record “none of the issues raised in the motion to alter, amend or vacate requires any change in the final judgment rendered by the Court.”
Bevin’s office issued a statement saying he disagrees with the ruling and will appeal.
After a series of controversies at U of L ranging from embezzlement and financial mismanagement to an NCAA investigation of the men’s basketball program, Bevin abolished the board in June by executive order and then named an entirely new one.
Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear sued, claiming Bevin exceeded his authority and the removal of board members violated state laws fixing specific terms for university trustees and requiring due process for their removal by cause.
Bevin’s General Counsel Steve Pitt argued the governor removed no trustees; he simply abolished the board under his authority to reorganize the executive branch.
Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling in another case saying Bevin could not unilaterally reduce state funding to universities and community colleges. In the majority opinion, Justice Mary Noble wrote that the legislature had removed universities from the executive branch and they were independent bodies with control of their own budgets.
That’s the case Pitt argued Shepherd misconstrued, along with a 2007 case dealing with a governor’s appointments to university boards from lists of nominees which Pitt argued placed universities under the governor’s power.
But Shepherd’s ruling Friday cited the 1952 law removing universities from the executive branch and said Bevin’s motion fails to say in what “existing department or cabinet” U of L is housed. He also noted that the U of L board does not report to any commissioner or cabinet secretary.
The judge again rejected governor’s contention that there is any real distinction between abolishing the U of L board and removing its trustees.
Shepherd wrote that Bevin acknowledges the trustees who served on the board prior to the executive order abolishing the board no longer served on the board after the order was executed.
“It defies common sense, and the basic rules of English grammar, to interpret these facts to mean that those board members were not removed from the office, as the Governor argues,” Shepherd wrote. “While they may have been removed by Executive Order rather than a letter of termination, they were removed nonetheless. They all served on the Board one day, and were no longer on the Board the next day. This may be inconvenient for the Governor’s legal argument, but it is a fact.”
Beshear called on Bevin to accept the ruling and appoint members to five vacancies on the board.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.