Beshear, Conway to take over trustee suit

On Tuesday, a new governor and a new attorney general will take office and take over a case disputing the number of Republican members on the boards of trustees at UK and other state universities.

In a conference yesterday, Judge Phillip Shepherd of Franklin County Circuit Court said Gov.-elect Steve Beshear, a Democrat, will take over as the defendant in a case alleging the boards currently violate portions of state law requiring the proportion of Republicans and Democrats on each public university’s governing board to reflect that of registered voters in the state, said Ray Mills of the judge’s office.

Until general counsel-designate Ellen Hesen has looked over the case, Beshear’s office is declining to comment, said Vicki Glass, a spokeswoman for Beshear. Attorney General-elect Jack Conway, a Democrat, could not be reached for comment by press time.

However, the opinions of both incoming officials on the case could be known as soon as today, said Assistant Attorney General Pierce Whites.

No new official court action occurred yesterday on the lawsuit, first filed in August by Attorney General Greg Stumbo, a Democrat, against Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher. The most substantive development in the case yesterday is that the judge brought up the possibility that members of UK’s Board of Trustees may be added as defendants in the case. If that were the case, the trustees would have to defend their spots on the board and address whether their appointments are in compliance with state law.

The only reason trustees would be brought into the case is if Conway and Beshear agree to pursue the case and remove trustees, Whites said.

The office of the governor is pleased that the court has allowed the 16 appointed trustees to maintain their positions during the lawsuit even though they are in question, said Andy Barr, Fletcher’s assistant general counsel.

In Kentucky, 56.9 percent of voters are registered Democrats, 36.6 percent are Republicans, and 6.5 percent are independents or are affiliated with another party, according to the Kentucky State Board of Elections.

The UK board has 16 gubernatorial appointees, of whom seven are Democrats and nine are Republicans. Of Kentucky voters registered in one of the two major parties, 60.8 percent are Democrats, proportionate to about 10 Democratic appointees on UK’s Board of Trustees.