Lawsuit seeks removal of Rich Storm as state fish and wildlife chief

An Oldham County sportsman has filed a lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court, seeking the removal of Rich Storm as commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and voiding his contract.

Larry Richards also is asking the court to find that the commission violated the Kentucky Open Meetings Act “in partaking in closed meetings for unauthorized purposes and without sufficient public notice” and fine it $100 for each violation.

Richards filed the lawsuit Wednesday against the commission and its board chairman, Karl Clinard, a Somerset orthodontist.

Clinard said Thursday he has not seen the lawsuit and has no comment. Kevin Kelly,a spokesman for the department, said Storm “has not seen the lawsuit, so it would be premature for him to comment about it.”

The lawsuit, which has been assigned to Judge Phillip Shepherd, notes the recent decision by Attorney General Daniel Cameron that the commission violated the state Open Meetings Act three times this year and last in connection with its controversial reinstatement of Storm as its commissioner.

Cameron said the commission violated the law when it went into closed session without first providing sufficient explanation to close the meetings.

Clinard recently said it was a technical violation with no intent of breaking any law or hiding anything from the public. He noted that Cameron’s decision also referred to it as a technical violation.

Amy Bensenhaver, a retired state assistant attorney general, who for 25 years specialized in Kentucky’s open records and meetings laws and is a co-founder of the Kentucky Open Government Coalition, said there is no such thing as a technical violation of he Open Meetings law.”

Clinard said department attorneys for the last 2 1/2 years he has been chairman have given him a statement to read to go into closed session and “no one has complained about it until now.”

Richards had complained to Cameron that the nine-member commission at its Jan. 31 meeting last year and April 1 and April 14 meetings this year held private sessions to discuss Storm and they violated open meetings law when it failed to adequately explain the purpose for the closed sessions.

Richards also claimed that the commission could not discuss Storm in closed session, but Cameron said the commission did not run afoul of the law by discussing personnel matters during the closed meetings.

“The defendants willfully violated the Open Meetings Act,” said Richards’ lawsuit this week.

The lawsuit asked for a temporary and permanent injunction removing Storm as commissioner. It was filed for Richards by Lexington attorney James Yoder.

Storm first became commissioner in January 2019 during the administration of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.

Richards said he doubts the commission will start the process anew.

Despite objections from Gov. Andy Beshear, the Fish and Wildlife Commission in April gave Storm a new four-year contract to be commissioner for $140,000 a year and jumping to $147,000 in each of the next three years. It included other benefits like sick leave days, health insurance and state payment of FICA, a U.S. federal payroll tax.

Beshear and the commission argued for months over who could appoint the commissioner and set the salary — the executive branch or the commission. The commission first hired Storm in 2019 during the Bevin Administration and the Beshear Administration stopped paying his salary last July.

The Republican-led legislature this year approved a new law over Beshear’s veto that made Storm’s comeback possible. The measure allows the Fish and Wildlife board to appoint its own commissioner and set the salary for the job with the approval of the legislature’s Government Contract Review Committee.

A lawsuit over authority of the commission is pending in the Kentucky Court of Appeals.