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Judge Denies Bevin’s Request To Step Down Over Facebook ‘Like’

Ryland Barton

A judge has denied Gov. Matt Bevin’s request that he no longer preside over a lawsuit against the state’s investigation into protesting teachers.

The Bevin administration argued that Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd should be disqualified from the case because he “liked” a Facebook post that was supportive of Bevin’s rival, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear.

But in a three-page order, Shepherd denied Bevin’s request, pointing out that he has liked posts that are supportive of Bevin as well.

“Yet the Defendant’s motion makes no mention of the undersigned Judge’s ‘likes’ for these supporters of the Bevin-Alvarado ticket,” Shepherd wrote.

“The Court’s intent in ‘liking’ such posts is to encourage people to actively participate in our democracy.”

Shepherd is presiding over Beshear’s lawsuit against Labor Cabinet Secretary David Dickerson, who subpoenaed 10 school districts for information about teachers who used sick days to protest in Frankfort during this year’s legislative session.

Beshear is challenging Bevin in this year’s race for governor.

The Bevin administration requested Shepherd’s dismissal after he “liked” a post by a Beshear campaign volunteer.

Shepherd said that he had also “liked” posts supporting Bevin’s reelection at the state fair, President Donald Trump’s visit to Louisville last month and a post about a Bevin reception at the Frankfort Country Club.

In his ruling, Shepherd wrote that he would refrain from responding to political posts in the future because they “lend themselves to misunderstanding and distortion,” but that “liking” a post isn’t grounds for disqualification.

“It is an extreme and unwarranted stretch to hold that such an isolated ‘like’ on Facebook for any post involving a political campaign, must be held to require per se disqualification from all cases that may be affected by that campaign,” Shepherd wrote.

The ruling means that Beshear’s lawsuit against the Bevin administration will continue into the fall election season.

Last month Bevin’s labor cabinet announced that it had completed its investigation, determining that 1,074 Kentucky teachers broke the law by calling in sick to protest and were eligible to be fined $1,000 each for every day missed.

Labor Cabinet Secretary Dickerson said that the state would not fine teachers this time, but might in the future.

Bevin has lashed out at Shepherd several times in recent years amid a series of legal challenges brought on by Beshear, calling him an “incompetent hack” and accusing him of being a Democratic operative.

Bevin has also scrutinized Shepherd’s Facebook page before. Last year he made a video criticizing Shepherd for indicating he was “interested” in a protest against the pension bill Bevin signed into law.

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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