FRANKFORT -- Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton suffered a legal setback Monday when Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd denied her request for a temporary injunction to block Gov. Matt Bevin's administration from dismissing two of her three staffers.
In a five-page order, Shepherd said Hampton "has failed to identify any clear statutory basis for her argument that she has inherent power to hire and fire her own staff, independently of the policies and procedures put in place by the Governor."
The judge also said he finds the public interest would not be served by injunctive relief.
"While Lt. Gov. Hampton has performed the duties assigned to her in an exemplary manner, the Court cannot find that she is hampered or restricted in performing her statutory duties by the lack of staff," Shepherd said.
The judge scheduled a pretrial conference on the lawsuit for 9 a.m. Thursday.
"We are obviously disappointed with the ruling, and we still believe that Lt. Gov. Hampton will ultimately prevail on the merits of her suit," said Hampton's attorney, Joshua Harp of Frankfort. "However, the present reality is that Lt. Gov. Hampton remains hampered by her lack of staff, and each day that passes while she is deprived of the rights that go with her office is one more day she will not get back."
Bevin's communications office had no immediate comment.
Shepherd directed on Aug. 19 the governor and lieutenant governor or their designees to work out their differences, but they were not able to do that.
In a 12-page suit Hampton filed last month against Bevin and the Personnel Cabinet, Hampton asked the court to declare that she -- as a constitutionally elected officer of the state -- is empowered by the law to appoint staff to her office and to block the governor from interfering with her appointment power.
Bevin's general counsel, Steve Pitt, has argued that the lieutenant governor does not have that power. He has based much of his argument on the 1992 constitutional amendment that allowed governors to seek a second, consecutive term and required them to run with a running mate instead of individually.
Harp argued that Hampton is a constitutionally elected officer in her own right and has the authority to hire and fire her staff.
The Bevin administration fired Hampton's chief of staff, Steve Knipper, in January for refusing to follow its policy of leaving state government when he decided to run in May's Republican primary election for secretary of state. He was unsuccessful in the election.
The Bevin administration then fired Adrienne Southworth, Hampton's deputy chief of staff, in May. Southworth said she didn't know why she was fired, but she had been investigating Knipper's dismissal.
Knipper and Southworth have appealed their dismissals to the Personnel Board, which is to take up their cases on Friday.
Bevin's chief of staff, Blake Brickman, has said he authorized Southworth's dismissal for "remarkably poor judgment in a number of ways."
Bevin and Hampton have been at odds since January when he chose state Sen. Ralph Alvarado of Winchester, instead of her, to be his running mate in his re-election bid this year.