FRANKFORT — A judge ruled Tuesday that Attorney General Andy Beshear can hire outside attorneys to sue drug manufacturers and distributors without getting approval from the Bevin Administration.
In a 12-page ruling, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd said Gov. Matt Bevin’s power to implement executive authority “does not authorize him to micro-manage or dictate legal strategy and tactics to the state’s independently-elected chief lawyer who represents all citizens.”
Beshear, a Democrat, said Tuesday that Shepherd’s ruling “tells the governor to stop obstructing and delaying our efforts.” On Monday, he filed his third lawsuit against a drug distributor.
A spokeswoman for Bevin, a Republican, said the ruling “is not consistent with the law and should be reversed.”
Elizabeth Kuhn, communications director for Bevin, noted that Bevin asked Beshear in a letter two weeks ago “to put aside differences and work together jointly to pursue opioid litigation.” She said Beshear has not responded.
Beshear claimed last month in a lawsuit filed in Franklin Circuit Court that state Finance Secretary William M. Landrum IIII was wrong when he ordered a review of Beshear’s contingency fee contracts with outside attorneys to litigate claims against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
In September, Beshear announced he had hired four law firms to to investigate and potentially sue drug manufacturers, distributors and retailers that contributed to Kentucky’s opioid abuse epidemic. State tax dollars will not pay for the cost of litigation. Instead, the law firms will get a portion of any verdict or settlement.
Hours later, though, the Bevin Administration said Beshear’s announcement was premature and questioned whether Beshear, a Democrat, had followed the required process to approve the contract.
Bevin’s Finance and Administration Cabinet rejected the proposed contract twice but approved it on Dec. 21. The legislature’s Government Contract Review Committee later recommended that Landrum cancel the contract, saying there should be a more favorable contingency fee schedule that caps attorney fees.
Landrum had 10 days to respond to the committee’s actions but Beshear took the issue to Franklin Circuit Court on Jan. 16.
On Jan. 18, Landrum said he would not override the committee’s decision and that the contract was canceled. Shepherd heard arguments on Beshear’s lawsuit on Jan. 19.
“The attorney general obviously believed in the importance of the contract review process because he followed the process until his contract was denied,” Kuhn said. “Then, when he didn’t get his way, he turned to the courts to rubber stamp an outrageous and unprecedented power grab.”
Shepherd said to allow Landrum “to hold veto over these contracts entered into by the commonwealth’s independently elected chief legal officer would inappropriately inject the cabinet into the attorney general’s exercise of legal judgment, strategy and tactics in discharging his fundamental constitutional obligations.”
He said Landrum “failed to articulate any good faith basis for his denial of approval of this contingency-fee-based legal services contract.”
Shepherd also said the legislature cannot abrogate Beshear’s common law powers to the extent that he is “practically prevented from discharging the substantial duties of his office.”