FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Attorneys for Gov. Matt Bevin have filed a request with Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton, Jr., to have Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd removed from hearing the teacher “sickout” lawsuit.
The notice requesting a special judge was filed Tuesday on behalf of Labor Secretary David A. Dickerson, who is listed as the defendant in the case, in which Attorney General Andy Beshear and the Jefferson County Teachers Association are the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit was filed after the state Labor Cabinet subpoenaed the records of around 10 school districts which had to shut down for at least one day due to teacher sick-outs, who were protesting proposed changes in the public pension system during the 2019 General Assembly. Jefferson County had to cancel classes for six days due to a lack of available teachers and substitutes.
Beshear sent a letter to Bevin and Dickerson on April 16, telling them the subpoenas are unlawful, and gave them 10 days to rescind the subpoenas or face possible legal action.
Dickerson responded in a letter saying the Labor Cabinet is fulfilling its statutory duty and acting in the public interest of students, parents, employers, and the taxpayers of Kentucky by investigating whether a public-sector strike or work stoppage has occurred in violation of state law, which prompted the suit.
Last month, the Labor Cabinet’s Office of Inspector General completed the investigation into whether Kentucky teachers engaged in an illegal work stoppage and found 1,074 teachers did violate Kentucky law, which clearly prohibits such work stoppages.
Bevin’s attorneys moved Shepherd to remove himself from hearing the case because Shepherd “liked” a Facebook post by a supporter of Beshear, in his race against Bevin in November General Election, but Shepherd declined on Sept. 4.
The letter to Minton, filed by Bevin’s legal staff and Labor Cabinet attorneys, says the issue is narrow but of great consequence. “It is about the integrity of Kentucky’s independent Judiciary. As Your Honor is aware, the Kentucky Supreme Court requires that judges within this state, ‘act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary,” quoting from the Supreme Court Rules.
“So critical is this principle to preserving the integrity of our Judiciary,” the letter continues, “that the Code of Judicial Conduct requires that a judge recuse himself whenever his ‘impartiality might reasonably be questioned.’”
The letter also makes mention of a 2015 incident, when the Judicial Conduct Commission issued a private reprimand to a judge who “liked” several Facebook pages of political candidates before becoming a judge and didn’t remove them after taking the bench.
The letter, which was part of a 132-page filing that included various filings, motions and orders in the case, concluded, “Since this kind of activity merited a reprimand in the 2015 matter, it certainly requires recusal here.”
Beshear issued a statement on the letter Tuesday evening, saying, “Matt Bevin claimed 1,000 teachers broke the law before a final report was complete and without giving teachers due process. We’re not going to stop fighting to protect our teachers from this governor’s investigation and threats.”