FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Another Republican made a pay-for-play politics accusation against a Democratic officeholder on Tuesday, this time leveled against Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Lindsay Hughes Thurston, senior advisor to Grimes, was asked during a meeting of the General Assembly’s Government Contract Review Committee about a contract with the law firm Kincaid and Stilz for a lawsuit against the office.
Thurston explained they contracted with an outside firm because there was no in-house general counsel in the Secretary of State’s office. Committee co-chair, Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, asked about Robert C. Stilz III, a partner in the law firm, who Meredith said was listed as a director and current officer for Alison Lundergan Grimes, Inc.
“I don’t know if he has any current involvement and would be happy to look into it and we can come back next month,” Thurston said.
“I think we’ll have to because, obviously, we want as much transparency as possible,” Meredith said. “It bothers me that the number of law firms we have in this state, it boils down to someone who has a relationship with the current Secretary of State. That has all the suspicions of pay to play. We’ve had enough of that in our state over the years.”
The contract was deferred until next month for action.
After the meeting, the committee released information stating that Robert C. “Coley” Stiltz III was a registered agent for SR Holdings Company, Inc., owned by Grimes father, Jerry Lundergan, and that Stilz was treasurer for Grimes’ two campaigns for secretary of state.
Grimes’ spokesman Bradford Queen released a statement on the situation: “As the Secretary has said, and as demonstrated today, Republicans appear eager to use taxpayer resources to try to generate salacious and fake news headlines against her. Now, for two months in a row, another Republican-led panel has been on an expedition in search of a problem with contracts that they know were appropriately awarded and approved by their Governor's Finance and Administration Cabinet.
“Additionally, as all public court filings show, Mr. Stilz doesn't represent the Secretary of State's office and has never represented the office during Secretary Grimes' tenure. The contract with Kinkead & Stilz was awarded pursuant to the requirements set forth in the request for proposals.”
The committee also mentioned the contract the Attorney General’s office signed with a group of law firms led by Morgan and Morgan to litigate, on a contingency fee basis, lawsuits filed against opioid manufacturers and distributors. That means the law firms collect a percentage of any awards but earn nothing in cases they lose.
Meredith disputed statements that the contingency contract wouldn’t cost the state anything. “If that’s work that could or should be done by the Attorney General’s office, isn’t that a cost to the commonwealth, because we’re not recovering the full amount in those particular cases.”
He also chided the Attorney General’s office for not sending someone to the meeting to answer questions. Meredith said until a final ruling is made by the Supreme Court on a current lawsuit filed by Attorney General Andy Beshear against the Finance and Administration Cabinet for rejecting the Morgan and Morgan contract, the current law giving the committee oversight of the contracts remains in force.
However, a ruling by Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd in the case said the attorney general can enter into such contracts without committee approval and Beshear had sent a letter to the committee explaining that under civil rules, the Franklin Circuit Court ruling has the force of law, unless overturned by a higher court.
The letter explained he wouldn’t have a representative on hand because the case was still pending before the Kentucky Supreme Court.
It also stated Beshear’s concern about a significant conflict of interest.
“One of the remaining parties in the litigation is the Governor of Kentucky,” the letter said. “He is represented in the litigation by Deputy General Counsel Chad Meredith. The chairman of this committee, Senator Stephen Meredith, the member seeking this testimony, is the father of Chad Meredith. Thus, the father of legal counsel for one party is seeking to question the people his son is opposing, on the very topic at issue and during the pendency of his son’s case.”