Matt Bevin rips judge involved in pension case as ‘incompetent hack’

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The day after losing a procedural motion in the lawsuit challenging Kentucky’s new pension law, Gov. Matt Bevin doubled down in his attacks against the judge in the case, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd.

In a radio interview on 55KRC Radio in Cincinnati, Bevin called Shepherd “the most incompetent hack of a judge, I don’t know if in Kentucky but certainly one of the worst.”

Bevin accused Shepherd of “legislating from the bench” and advising Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear on how to win the lawsuit that Beshear and others brought challenging the legality of Kentucky’s new pension law.

“This guy’s a former Democrat operative. He used to be in a previous Democrat administration as an appointee. Now he happens to be a – quote, unquote – judge,” Bevin said in the radio interview. “But the law, and following the law, is of little regard to him. And this is why one of the things we need in this state is legal reform because guys like this who don’t take the law seriously should not be sitting on the bench.”

Shepherd declined to comment later Tuesday on the governor’s latest attack.

Bevin’s Tuesday blast is only the most recent shot he’s taken at Shepherd on conservative talk radio.

In 2016, Bevin, the Republican party of Kentucky and state Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Louisville, accused Shepherd of allowing politics to sway his rulings after Shepherd ruled Bevin’s reorganization of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees was illegal.

But a Courier Journal review that year of cases with political implications over the previous decade found that Shepherd sided with Republicans or against Democrats six times, with Democrats or against Republicans three times, and delivered mixed rulings twice.

Bevin’s comments Tuesday came a day after Shepherd denied the governor’s request to take depositions – sworn testimony – from the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit.

Steve Pitt, general counsel for the Governor’s Office, sought the depositions to better understand facts alleged by the plaintiffs – the attorney general, the Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police and the Kentucky Education Association.

After a hearing on the motion Monday, Pitt said he was disappointed.

“At this point in time we’re being deprived of being able to test the accuracy of the allegations,” Pitt said.

In Tuesday’s radio interview Bevin criticized the ruling, saying Shepherd wanted to “get what he wants … to strike this down” before the new law goes into effect July 1.

But Shepherd said the case is one where there is not a conflict over relevant facts and that the case can be decided on legal issues. If factual disputes emerge as the legal issues are addressed the court could schedule hearings on them later, he said.

Last week in another interview with conservative talk radio, Bevin more generally criticized the courts, particularly Franklin Circuit.

Pitt said after Monday’s hearing that he had not heard that interview. But he said he had “great respect and admiration” for Shepherd.

“Lawyers and judges have different worldviews. I think he tries to make decisions according to what he thinks is proper at that time,” Pitt said of Shepherd.

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Written by Tom Loftus.
Cross-posted with permission from the Courier-Journal via Kentucky Press News Service.