Attorney’s victories helped pave the way for health care reforms
(originally published in the Northern Kentucky Enquirer November 14, 2013)
For the better part of the past month, Gov. Steve Beshear has hit the national airwaves to tout Kentucky’s successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act – the state’s online health exchange is the envy of the nation for its glitch-free Oct. 1 rollout – and Medicaid expansion.
Both are significant accomplishments that help cement the governor’s legacy on health care reform – but neither would have been possible without two critical legal victories by a Northern Kentucky attorney.
In September, Patrick Hughes, of Edgewood, defended the state against lawsuits from the tea party that sought to stop the ACA implementation and Medicaid expansion. The plaintiff essentially accused Beshear of overstepping the bounds of his authority on both issues, but Hughes successfully argued that he did not. (The cases are under appeal.)
Being selected to represent the state on such high-profile cases is a high honor – and winning them both is a huge accomplishment.
“There’s a lot of really established constitutional lawyers in the state of Kentucky. The governor could have gone in 20 or 30 different directions, but he went with Patrick,” said Mark Guilfoyle, Hughes’ law partner and longtime friend. “So it’s a real coup to get the representation. But then to go on and win both cases – that would be a feather in the cap of any lawyer, whether you’re out of law school for five years or 45 years. Those are big wins, and testaments to his abilities as a lawyer. He’s the whole package.”
Few people outside of political and legal circles may have heard of Hughes; aside from a hard-fought 2002 bid for Kenton County judge-executive, the 44-year-old father of two and partner at DBL Law in Crestview Hills keeps a deliberately low profile.
But over a two-decade career, he’s had a hand in a number of high-profile issues and developments across the region and the state and has come to be known as one of the top government and health care attorneys in Kentucky.
Hughes got his start clerking for former U.S. Sen. Wendell Ford, then headed to Frankfort in the mid-1990s to work as general counsel to John McCarty, secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet. He worked on everything from the state budget to the development of Covington’s RiverCenter office towers. At the time, the state owned the ground; Hughes helped negotiate the lease of the air above them to Corporex, which built the towers that helped revitalize Covington’s riverfront.
“The finance cabinet is like the heartbeat of state government,” Hughes said. “So it was fun, because I got to work all of the state budget issues, state spending, capital projects. It was pretty exciting for a young lawyer to be working on some of these things.”
It was also during his stint at the finance cabinet that Hughes struck up a friendship with another young attorney, Louisville native Jack Conway, who was general counsel to then-Gov. Paul Patton.
“Then-Secretary McCarty leaned on Patrick heavily because Patrick, despite being youthful, was someone whose intelligence and work ethic were readily apparent,” said Conway, now the state’s attorney general.
Hughes left Frankfort in 1997 and returned to Northern Kentucky, entering private practice at DBL. His work there included the development of the Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, unraveling the complicated legal issues surrounding the first-of-its-kind project, which turned out to be an economic boon for the region and the state.
Hughes’ law practice evolved into other areas, including health care. In 2008, he worked on the high-profile merger of St. Elizabeth Healthcare and St. Luke Hospitals.
When Conway decided to run for re-election in 2011, he needed a chief deputy upon whom he could rely to keep his office running smoothly. Hughes had turned him down for the post in 2007, but this time he agreed to take the job and commute to Frankfort for a year and a half.
“He’s an incredibly talented lawyer; he’s very insightful and very detail-oriented,” Conway said. “He’s very good at getting down in the weeds of a case, but at the same time he’s good at getting up at 40,000 feet and being able to explain issues to people who don’t know a lot about the law. He really has a rare talent.”
In 2011, when a controversial hospital merger in Louisville took state officials by surprise, Hughes was called upon to advise Beshear and Conway on whether they should get involved.
“It was rife with political complications. It had a lot of corporate complications, it had a lot of constitutional complications,” Hughes said. “I spent a whole lot of time reading reams and reams and reams of paper.”
Acting upon Hughes’ advice, Conway decided the merger was a consumer protection issue and his office would look into it. Later, also acting upon Hughes’ advice, Beshear successfully blocked the merger.
Hughes said his time working for Conway “was a great opportunity because not only did I strengthen my relationship with Jack and work on some really exciting issues, but I developed my relationship with some senior officials in the administration and the Legislature, and was able to build some credibility because I had worked with them.”
He left Conway’s office in mid-2012 to return to DBL. But when the ACA and Medicaid lawsuits were filed, his broad experience and deep knowledge of state government and health care made Hughes a natural fit to defend the state.
“He’s a do-er; he gets it done,” said state Rep. Sal Santoro of Florence, a friend. “When he’s faced with a task, he works it diligently and does an outstanding job. Even when he’s on the other side of an issue – you know he’s a warrior.”
Hughes said he’s now focused on his work at DBL and growing the firm’s new Louisville office.
But he won’t be far from state government: He’s advising a special legislative committee investigating allegations that a former state representative sexually harassed staffers, and he’s also Beshear’s newest appointee to the influential Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure« Back to news