State Democratic Party says AG leader Ryan Quarles paid appointee who primarily campaigned for judgeship

By Jack Brammer
NKyTribune journalist

The Kentucky Democratic Party says Republican Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles paid his chief attorney, Joe Bilby, $115,000 in taxpayer dollars, while Bilby missed most days of work to do campaign for Franklin County circuit judge.

Ryan Quarles

A party statement on Tuesday said Bilby had not worked a full week in the department since last September.

He noted that former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, “even challenged on ethics,” demanded that members of his administration step down to run for public office. The party’s firing of Bevin was in response to the controversial pardons Bevin granted at the end of his term.

Bilby is challenging incumbent Phillip Shepherd for the position of circuit judge in Franklin County in the nonpartisan race in the Nov. 8 general election. Quarles is running for governor next year against incumbent Democrat Andy Beshear.

“When Joe decided to run for judge, he offered to step down as my team’s top lawyer,” Quarles said. “I asked him not to leave because I appreciate his sense of entitlement as Andy Beshear continues to sue me, wasting taxpayers’ money.

“Beshear is continually suing me, so it’s a good thing we have a talented lawyer like Joe Bilby to handle his nuisance claims.

“Fortunately, Kentucky law allows Joe to continue working here while he sits as a judge in his spare time, faithfully following all the rules. The Beshear team offense is desperate.

The executive director of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission confirmed that the law does not require Bilby to reside to hold a nonpartisan office.

“Last October, I sought advice from the Executive Branch Ethics Commission. The Executive Director of the Commission has said that the law does not require me to resign my position to run as a candidate for this non-partisan position,” Bilby said. “Like other state employees, I am authorized to use accumulated compensation time and annual leave.”

The state Democratic Party said it obtained Bilby’s timesheets in June for his work through May 27 via an Open Records request.

Joe Bilby

He said they showed Bilby only worked two full days in April, three in March and five full days in May. Bilby, who operates his own law firm in Frankfort, worked just 23 full days (out of more than 130) from the time he filed paperwork to run for circuit court judge on Nov. 19 until the Kentucky Democratic Party gets its timesheets in June for its work through May 27, the party said. The party noted that Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican Bevin demanded that appointees step down when they run for office.

“Ryan Quarles and Joe Bilby continue to demonstrate to Kentuckians why they should not be trusted in their current jobs and why they are clearly unsuitable for promotion,” said Democratic Party Chairman Colmon Elridge.

“Even Matt Bevin knew not to pay big salaries to political appointees while they ran for office. It stinks, it’s unethical and it’s financially irresponsible.

Quarles’ lack of a full-time general counsel could explain some of the “mismanagement” in the Agriculture Department, Elridge said.

He mentioned a delay this month in issuing payments to low-income seniors to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets and a poor response to requests for public records.