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Lt. Gov. Hampton Is Suing Gov. Bevin Over Firing Of Staffers

J. Tyler Franklin

Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton has filed a lawsuit against Gov. Matt Bevin over the firings of two of her staffers earlier this year.

The development is the latest in the ongoing battle between the former Republican allies after Bevin didn’t select Hampton to be on his re-election ticket.

In the 12-page complaint, Hampton argues that Bevin doesn’t have the authority to fire employees in her office and asks the court to restore her former staffers.

“There is no monetary value, no price, which can be placed upon each day of the Lieutenant Governor’s term,” Hampton’s attorney Joshua Harp wrote in the complaint.

“Yet this much is certain: as of the filing of this Action, the Lieutenant Governor has 117 days remaining in her office. Every day that passes while she is wrongly deprived of the rights, authority, and privileges which are attendant to her office is one more day for which there is no remedy at law.”

In an emailed statement, Bevin spokeswoman Elizabeth Kuhn responded to the suit.

“The matter is currently before the personnel board, and it is inappropriate for a lawsuit to be filed before the board issues its decision,” she wrote. “We will move for immediate dismissal of the complaint.”

Bevin fired Hampton’s chief of staff Steve Knipper earlier this year after Knipper filed to run for secretary of state. The Bevin administration cited a policy requiring non-merit employees to resign if they run for elected office.

Then in May, the administration fired Hampton’s deputy chief of staff Adrienne Southworth. Bevin’s chief of staff Blake Brickman said he authorized the dismissal, arguing that she “repeatedly demonstrated poor judgement.”

The lawsuit includes a copy of an email Hampton sent to Personnel Cabinet Secretary Thomas Stephens requesting Southworth to be reinstated shortly after she was fired in May.

“While I was out of the office today I heard that Adrienne Southworth, my Deputy Chief of Staff, was let go. NO ONE has authority to terminate employment of my staffers without my permission, and certainly not without the courtesy of discussing her performance with me. She has been a stellar Deputy,” Hampton wrote.

Hampton’s relationship with Bevin has been rocky over the last year after Bevin didn’t select her to be on his re-election ticket, instead tapping state Sen. Ralph Alvarado.

Bevin has maintained that he and Hampton get along fine. In an impromptu press conference last month, Bevin chastised reportersfor coverage of the issue.

“All of this supposed angst that exists between the two of us — have any of you ever witnessed or heard any of that? Have you ever heard me say one negative thing about her or her one negative thing about me? No, it’s all rumors and things that you all gin up or hypothesize on,” Bevin said.

Hampton is the first African-American elected to statewide office in Kentucky. Before her successful campaign with Bevin in 2015, she was a packaging industry executive, Tea Party activist in Bowling Green and unsuccessful candidate for the state House of Representatives.

A 1992 amendment of the Kentucky Constitution stripped most of the powers from the lieutenant governor’s office. Prior to that, lieutenant governors were elected independently from the governor, could cast tie-breaking votes in the state Senate and became governor any time the governor was out of state.

Now the office is largely symbolic, though a lieutenant governor becomes governor in the event of a governor’s death or incapacitation.

Hampton’s suit will be heard in Franklin Circuit Court Monday morning.

This story has been updated with a comment from Bevin’s office.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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