FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Continuing a legal fight at the top of Kentucky's government, Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton is appealing a ruling that concluded Gov. Matt Bevin's office acted within its authority when firing her top two assistants.
Hampton's attorney, Joshua Harp, filed a notice that the lieutenant governor will appeal to the Kentucky Court of Appeals. The extraordinary legal fight revolves around whether the governor or the lieutenant governor has hiring and firing authority in the lieutenant governor's office.
Hampton's lawsuit against Bevin, her fellow Republican, stemmed from the firing of Hampton's chief of staff and deputy chief of staff, over her objections. Hampton went to court seeking their reinstatement.
Last month, Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled that the governor has "superseding authority" to hire and fire the lieutenant governor's staff, and the lieutenant governor has none — unless the governor grants the authority.
"We respectfully believe that Judge Shepherd's ruling was incorrect and we think it's an important issue that needs to be resolved by further appeal," Harp said in a telephone interview Thursday.
The legal fight played out during the state's hotly contested governor's race.
Bevin, who dropped Hampton from his ticket early this year, was defeated by Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear in this month's election. Bevin and Hampton will leave office next month.
Hampton filed the lawsuit in her "official capacity" as lieutenant governor. It was filed against Bevin in his "official capacity" as governor. As a result, the decision on how the case proceeds would likely be up to Beshear and Lt. Gov.-elect Jacqueline Coleman after they take office.
The governor-elect refers to Coleman as a "full partner" as they prepare to take office. On Thursday, Beshear told reporters that Coleman will hire her own staff, adding he would not intervene to fire any of them.
"Any administration is better off with a partnership that works and works well," he said.
Beshear also weighed in on the issue in an opinion issued by the attorney general's office this summer. The opinion said the lieutenant governor has the authority to hire and fire her own staff.
Hampton's lawsuit tests whether the lieutenant governor is an independent officer who heads an agency or is a subordinate officer to the governor. Hampton contends that her status as an "agency head" gives her the authority to appoint employees in her office.
Hampton's lawyer said Thursday that the hiring-and-firing dispute is an important one to settle.
"While this is no longer going to impact her (Hampton) directly, it is an important question for her successors in that office," Harp said.
In his ruling, Shepherd said there's "nothing in the record to support the proposition that the 'department' assigned to the Office of Lieutenant Governor consists of any personnel other than the Lieutenant Governor herself." Shepherd also cited budgetary considerations in concluding that the lieutenant governor is "subordinate" to the governor and part of the governor's office.
The current executive branch budget bill contains "no separate budget unit" for the lieutenant governor's office, he said. Instead, all budgetary allocations for the lieutenant governor are included in allocations for the governor's office, the judge said.