Impeachment petitioners being billed thousands of dollars for Gov. Beshear's attorney fees

Joe Sonka
Louisville Courier Journal

FRANKFORT — Gov. Andy Beshear's office is billing nearly $18,000 in attorney expenses to the petitioners who unsuccessfully sought to remove him from office.

His attorneys worked 159 hours to defend the governor in the impeachment committee proceedings.

The Beshear petitioners' total bill is likely to climb even higher, as they are also expected to be on the hook to pay for the legislators' time — which included eight meetings of the committee — and the committee's legal counsel.

The office of Attorney General Daniel Cameron, on the other hand, informed the House impeachment committee Wednesday it would not bill the petitioners who unsuccessfully attempted to impeach him, saying they "choose to move on."

Under state law cited by the committee chairman, unsuccessful petitioners are required to pay for the costs of the proceedings, including the attorney fees of the subject of the petition, as well as the time of the legislators on the committee and the attorney hired by the committee.

Last week, the impeachment committee voted unanimously to approve two reports recommending no action be taken by the House on the petitions to remove Beshear and Republican Attorney General Cameron.

The petition against Beshear was filed Jan. 8 by four individuals seeking to impeach the governor for allegedly violating the rights of Kentuckians with an array of emergency restrictions on public gatherings last year to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The committee's reports stating no impeachable offenses had been committed by Beshear and Cameron also requested both offices to submit to the committee their billed attorney expenses by March 3.

Related:A year later: How COVID-19 supercharged politics, boosted Andy Beshear and sunk Trump

Amy Cubbage, the governor's general counsel, delivered a bill to the committee Wednesday, which included a detailed itemization of the time spent by 10 attorneys in the office over January and February.

According to the bill, attorneys for the governor worked 159.5 hours on his impeachment defense at a cost of $17,730, with their hourly rate ranging from as low as $70.40 per hour to as high $118.90 per hour.

Cubbage billed the most for her time — $6,854 — and chief deputy general counsel S. Travis Mayo billed $5,184.

The committee reports from last week stated the unsuccessful petitioners would have five days to submit an objection to the billed costs submitted by Beshear and Cameron, which the committee would consider.

Though four individuals signed the original petition to impeach Beshear, one of those individuals requested to withdraw from the effort and it is not clear if he will also be billed.

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In a letter to the committee Wednesday, Victor Maddox, the assistant deputy attorney general under Cameron, reiterated the report's finding of no merit in the impeachment petitioners' allegations, which included a charge that he misled the public in a press conference on what instructions were given to the grand jury in the Breonna Taylor case.

The attorney for three of those grand jurors who have filed a lawsuit against Cameron signed the petition against Cameron, also doing so on behalf of the grand jurors that chose not to use their names.

Maddox wrote in his letter that while he respects the committee's decision "to recoup resources lost to this sham effort, we have decided not to seek reimbursement of our cost and further prolong matters related to these proceedings. We will move on."

State Rep. Jason Nemes-District 33 speaks during a committee meeting in Frankfort in February 2021.

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, the chairman of the impeachment committee, stated last week that petitioners seeking to impeach Rep. Robert Goforth, R-East Bernstadt, will eventually be billed the costs of the committee's work and that of two University of Kentucky Law professors who testified to the committee.

The petition seeking to remove Goforth because of his indictment for allegedly strangling his wife was dismissed by the committee, which agreed that Kentucky law does not allow legislators to be impeached through a citizen petition.

Nemes told The Courier Journal the impeachment committee would meet again this week to discuss and determine the total amount billed to the unsuccessful Beshear, Cameron and Goforth petitioners, including the time of the legislators who met eight times and their legal counsel Kent Westberry.

The remaining Beshear petitioners are: Jacob Clark of Leitchfield; Tony Wheatley of Salvisa; and Andrew Cooperrider of Lexington.

Clark and Wheatley told The Courier Journal Thursday they had not been made aware of what Beshear's office billed them, but planned to object to the impeachment committee billing the petitioners for any amount.

Noting the committee spent almost all of its meetings in closed executive sessions, Clark decried the "lack of transparency" and inability for the public to know what the legislators did behind closed doors.

"For all of that to be done in executive session is just a slap in the face to the taxpayer that should be able to inspect what they're paying for," Clark said.

Reach reporter Joe Sonka at jsonka@courierjournal.com and follow him on Twitter at @joesonka. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today at the top of this page.