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After Bevin’s Request, Kentucky Chief Justice Disqualifies Judge In Teacher ‘Sickout’ Case

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton has removed a judge presiding over a lawsuit between Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear and Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration because of a Facebook “like.”

The Bevin administration asked Minton to disqualify Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd because he “liked” a Facebook post that was supportive of Beshear while presiding over the teacher “sickout” lawsuit.

Minton ruled that even though Shepherd had liked Facebook posts that were supportive of both Bevin and Beshear, the state’s judicial code of conduct requires disqualification “in circumstances where the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

Beshear is suing the Bevin administration for investigating teachers who called in sick to protest in Frankfort during the legislative session earlier this year. Beshear is also challenging Bevin in this year’s race for governor.

Bevin originally asked Shepherd to disqualify himself after the judge “liked” a post by Democratic state Rep. Chris Harris praising volunteers on Beshear’s campaign.

Shepherd denied the request, saying that Facebook “likes” aren’t grounds for disqualification.

Bevin then asked Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton to disqualify Shepherd on the same grounds.

In his ruling, Minton wrote that the case “should serve as a cautionary tale to all Kentucky judges who use social media.”

“Judges should review their social-media presence to ensure it does not violate the Code of Judicial Conduct and should act prudently when ‘liking’ pages, posts, or tweets or otherwise interacting with other users on social media,” Minton wrote.

Minton has tapped Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate to preside over the case instead.

Beshear’s lawsuit against the Bevin administration came after Labor Cabinet Secretary David Dickerson subpoenaed 10 school districts for information about teachers who used sick days to protest in Frankfort during this year’s legislative session.

The cabinet eventually determined that 1,074 teachers broke the law, saying they were eligible to be fined $1,000 for each day they protested because they violated the state’s law banning public workers from striking.

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.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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