- Associated Press - Friday, July 29, 2016

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A state judge has temporarily blocked Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s attempt to replace the University of Louisville’s board of trustees, saying his actions undermined the independence of the school and cast a cloud over its academic reputation.

Last month, Bevin issued an executive order that abolished the university’s board of trustees, saying the group had become “operationally dysfunctional.” A few weeks later, he appointed a new board and said he expected President James Ramsey to resign.

But Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear sued, arguing Bevin’s order was illegal because of a state law that declares board members at public universities can only be removed for misconduct and must be given a chance to appeal the decision.

Bevin, however, argued he did not remove board members, but reorganized the board under another state law that he says gives him “absolute authority” to make government more efficient.

Friday, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd temporarily blocked Bevin’s order until the lawsuit could be resolved. He scolded Bevin for injecting himself “into the negotiation of the resignation of a university president” and said his order cast a cloud of uncertainty over the university’s accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.



“Here, the legal issues go to the heart of the democratic process,” Shepherd wrote. “The court must intervene to preserve the proper checks and balances governing executive action.”

Shepherd wrote the actions of the governor and his appointees “could cause substantial disruption that would be difficult or impossible” to undo. But the board has already made some significant decisions. On Wednesday, it agreed to accept Ramsey’s resignation and to pay him $690,000 with an agreement he would leave immediately and not sue the university.

Ramsey has led the university for 14 years and has been credited with boosting both the school’s fundraising and its academic standards. But he has been criticized recently for some campus embarrassments, including an FBI investigation of a top health care executive.

Bevin did not mention those scandals in his order replacing the board of trustees, but said the university simply needed “a fresh start.”

Shepherd’s order specifically strips the board of its “authority to act as the duly constituted Board of Trustees.” But in a footnote, Shepherd indicated the board’s decision regarding Ramsey would stand because, at the time, Shepherd had not yet issued a ruling. Shepherd suggested anyone “aggrieved by this ruling,” including Ramsey, can “bring any such concerns before the Court.”

Steve Pence, Ramsey’s attorney, said his client would not challenge the ruling.

“Dr. Ramsey has every intent to enforce the terms of his settlement agreement,” Pence said, adding that Ramsey will continue as president of the University of Louisville Foundation, which raises money for the school. “Today’s ruling and the politics contained in today’s ruling is an indication that the foundation needs to remain independent to a certain degree of the university board.”

Beshear celebrated Shepherd’s ruling as “a win for Kentucky students, their families and our public universities.” He said the ruling restores power to the former board of trustees.

Bevin’s press secretary Amanda Stamper criticized the judge’s ruling in a statement and wrote that the governor acted within his authority laid out by state law and legal precedent.

“The court’s abrupt altering of the status quo, just as the newly constituted University Board has begun to take constructive steps to put the University on a solid path forward, is neither in the best interest of the university nor the public,” she wrote in an email. “We are very confident that this temporary injunction is just that - temporary - and will be reversed on appeal.”

Later in the day, Bevin’s office issued a second statement suggesting that the attorney general either step aside “or even better, help Gov. Bevin clean up the mess that he inherited”- a dig at Beshear’s father, former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.

The lawsuit is one of several actions challenging Bevin’s power to abolish state boards and commissions. Beshear also sued Bevin over his decision to abolish and replace the board governing the Kentucky Retirement Systems. Labor unions have sued over Bevin’s decision to abolish and replace the board that nominates judges who decide workers compensation claims. Decisions in those cases are pending.

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