- Associated Press - Friday, November 16, 2018

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration has won the latest round in a court fight over whether a former state worker can be compelled to provide information as part of its investigation of contracts awarded when Bevin’s Democratic predecessor was in office.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled Friday that Bevin’s finance secretary has the power to issue a subpoena to Frank Lassiter, who served in former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration. A circuit court judge in Woodford County had ruled in Lassiter’s favor.

The case is an outgrowth of a broad, ongoing feud pitting Bevin against Steve Beshear and his son, state Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat who is running for governor. Bevin has said he is running for re-election next year.

In its ruling, a three-judge appeals court panel in Frankfort said state law gives Finance and Administration Secretary William Landrum III broad subpoena power when investigating mismanagement of state funds. The panel said the lower court erred when determining that Landrum didn’t have the power to serve a subpoena on Lassiter. The case was sent back to the lower court.

“By the power conferred by the legislature, he could do so,” Judge Kelly Thompson said in writing for the panel. “However, whether Lassiter may be compelled to comply with that subpoena is a matter yet to be addressed by the circuit court.”

Lassiter’s attorney, J. Guthrie True, said they will consider appealing to the state Supreme Court.

Responding to the ruling, the Finance Cabinet said Friday in a statement that subpoena power is “essential” to help it assure Kentuckians that “honest and transparent government will always be the expectation and corruption will never be tolerated.”

True said the ruling, if it stands, could have broad ramifications.

“The way I’m reading this ruling, it gives the secretary a much broader investigative sweep of authority than we think the statute permits,” he said in a phone interview. “So if the ruling stands, I think the secretary is going to try to wield a pretty big stick in terms of investigatory authority.”

True said the ruling could “leave open the option” for the lower court to quash the subpoena or narrow its scope.

The appeals court panel said the finance secretary has “no independent power” to enforce such subpoenas. It said enforcement of the secretary’s subpoena is a “judicial decision” to be made when a motion to quash it or compel its compliance is filed.

The case stems from Lassiter’s refusal to comply with the Republican governor’s investigation into technology-related contracts worth more than $10.7 million that were awarded by the Beshear administration to SAS Institute.

Included in the review was a no-bid $3 million contract awarded shortly before Steve Beshear left office in late 2015.

Lassiter served as executive director of the Office of Administrative Technology Services in the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services from 2008 to 2011. After leaving state government, he became a consultant for SAS. His wife served as a top executive in Steve Beshear’s administration.

As part of the Bevin administration’s investigation into whether the contracts complied with state procurement laws, Landrum served a subpoena on Lassiter in 2016 demanding that he offer testimony and provide documents related to the contracts.

Lassiter refused, arguing in part that Landrum lacked the authority to compel testimony from someone outside state government.

The inquiry is part of a broader investigation of what Bevin alleges is corruption in Steve Beshear’s administration. Democrats have criticized the investigation as politically motivated.

Bevin and Andy Beshear have feuded over issues including higher education funding and changes to public pension systems that ended up being fought in court.

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