FRANKFORT -- Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear has regularly boasted on the Kentucky campaign trail how, as the state attorney general, he has defeated Republican incumbent Matt Bevin in court.
"Every time we've stood up to them, every time we've won and we'll beat them again," Beshear told a group of teachers in February.
Beshear has bested Bevin in two high-profile cases that Democrats use to energize supporters. He blocked the governor's $18 million cut to Kentucky universities in 2016 and the administration's coveted pension reform bill in 2018.
But Bevin got a slam dunk this month when the Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously upheld a 2017 executive order that shuffled various state education boards.
And a review of the rivals' legal labyrinth since they both took office in 2015 shows a more complicated scorecard than Beshear presents to voters.
Of the five legal battles in which Beshear challenged Bevin's authority that have concluded before the Kentucky Supreme Court, the decisions have either, through dismissal or rulings, been in the Republican incumbent's favor three times and kept his changes intact.
"The record shows that Gov. Bevin's administration has actually beaten Attorney General Beshear more than he has," Blake Brickman, the governor's chief of staff, told the Courier Journal in a Tuesday interview.
"I think it goes to the attorney general's credibility of why he's making a statement that is just flat not true," Brickman said.
Beshear and Bevin's court catfight
Beshear campaign manager Eric Hyers disputes that characterization, saying in a statement that his candidate's goal was to protect Kentuckians from Bevin's decisions.
"This is much bigger than any one person -- Andy Beshear is fighting every day to put the best interests of Kentucky families first and uphold Kentucky's constitution," he said. "It's shameful we have a governor like Matt Bevin who thinks it's a personal win any time he can get away with hurting working families and the courts don't step in to stop him."
The Beshear campaign contends that besides the pension and university cuts cases, which Bevin officials agree they lost, it was able to extract wins in three other suits.
But the Democratic nominee's team does so by either pointing to lower court rulings that the state Supreme Court didn't take up or by blaming the state legislature for changing the law in the governor's favor.
• University of Louisville board of trustees reorganization: When Bevin sacked the board in 2017, citing internal dysfunction, Beshear won at the circuit court level.
The governor's office appealed, but as the case was transferred to the Supreme Court, the legislature passed a law that overhauled the Louisville board's makeup and clarified the trustee appointment process.
Beshear described it as a "bailout" at the time, but the Kentucky Supreme Court ultimately dismissed the attorney general's case. It ruled 7-0 to return the case to Franklin Circuit Court with directions to dismiss the complaint with prejudice, meaning another case with the same claim can't be filed.
Beshear campaign officials say this counts as a win since he won at the lower court before the legislature intervened, and because the court said Bevin cannot dissolve boards using the same state statute he cited last year.
But Steve Pitt, who serves as Bevin's general counsel, stood firm in an interview. He said the attorney general ultimately did not get what he wanted, and that the governor's reorganized U of L board remained in place.
"When you sue someone, you win if the end result of the case is that you get what you want," Pitt said. "Conversely, if your case is dismissed and you don't get what you want, then you are the loser, not the winner."
• Kentucky retirement board reorganization: Bevin booted a prominent member of the board, former chairman Tommy Elliott, who filed suit to regain the seat.
Beshear joined that suit and sought to have the governor's reorganization reversed. A judge scolded the Bevin administration for using a state police trooper to enforce the changes.
"The court made clear that Matt Bevin committed one of the worst abuses of power it has ever seen and eventually made the governor pay Elliott's legal fees after he lost his appeal in the court," Hyers, the Beshear campaign manager, said.
Ultimately, however, the same Franklin Circuit Court judge dismissed the suit, citing the legislature's move reaffirming Bevin's order restructuring the board.
The governor's reorganized retirement board remains in effect.
• Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board: As mentioned, the 7-0 Supreme Court ruling this month upheld Bevin's order modifying the membership and structures of key education boards, such as the Council on Postsecondary Education.
Beshear's campaign told the Courier Journal, however, it counts part of this case as a legal win in its general election argument because of a circuit court ruling that found Bevin violated the state constitution in changes to the board's disciplinary process.
Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate upheld all of Bevin's order except the part that changed the appeals procedure, but the governor never appealed that ruling to the high court.
Pitt said Beshear's campaign is being "shockingly disingenuous" about the merits of the education boards reorganization case. He said the discipline provision was one minor part that did not pertain to the governor's reorganization power and that the administration didn't think was worth disputing.
"Counting this as a win for the attorney general is blatantly dishonest," Pitt said. "The EPSB disciplinary issue is analogous to a minor battle within a war. The governor's office clearly won the war. It is dishonest to say that we both emerged from the war with one win and one loss."
Beshear said in that suit that the education boards are a special case, and the legislature shielded them from a governor's reorganization.
But the justices smacked down that argument, ruling that the legislature had given the governor broad authority to reorganize parts of government while it is not in session.
"We find the various education boards at issue fall within the ambit of the Governor's temporary-reorganization-outside-of-session power," Chief Justice John Minton said in the ruling.