Clay County judge jailed until trial

bestep@herald-leader.comMarch 27, 2009 

A former Clay County circuit judge accused in a vote-buying conspiracy must stay in jail until his trial, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

There is a risk that R. Cletus Maricle would try to obstruct justice if he is freed before his May 19 trial, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert E. Wier said in his decision.

Maricle, 65, was one of eight Clay County residents arrested last week on charges that they took part in a racketeering scheme to rig elections in 2002, 2004 and 2006 by buying or stealing votes.

Two other public officials were charged with him: county school superintendent Douglas C. Adams and Freddy Thompson, the county clerk.

Maricle's attorney, Henry Hughes, argued that Maricle would not pose a danger if released. Hughes urged Wier to let Maricle out of jail under strict conditions.

However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen C. Smith argued there would be a significant risk Maricle would try to influence or intimidate witnesses.

If the only issue were whether Maricle might flee to escape the charges, Wier said, he would release the former judge pending trial.

But Wier said he had no confidence that Maricle would abide by restrictions designed to protect the integrity of the judicial process.

Wier cited testimony by Timothy S. Briggs, an FBI special agent, and another witness that Maricle helped rig a multimillion-dollar judgment in a lawsuit in his own court.

Attempts to corrupt the court process "surely qualify as the gravest of public trust betrayals," Wier wrote.

"Whether the events happened as described is an open question, but the proof at the hearing was strong, specific, and essentially unchallenged," Wier said in his decision. "Pretrial detention is prophylactic, not punitive, and a person with the demonstrated capacity for fraudulently manipulating the judicial system is a poor candidate for pretrial release."

Wier noted that Maricle is presumed innocent and that the evidence against him is untested. However, it appears prosecutors will present significant evidence and testimony tying Maricle to the alleged crimes, Wier said.

Some things Maricle allegedly did, such as avoiding phone use and frisking people to search for hidden recording devices, "may, in the end, suggest consciousness of guilt," Wier said.

Attorneys for Maricle, who can appeal the decision, could not be reached Thursday.

Others charged in the case are Charles Wayne Jones, the county's Democratic election commissioner; William E. Stivers, the county Democratic Party chairman; Paul E. Bishop, an election officer; and William and Debra Morris, who allegedly helped buy votes.

All eight have pleaded not guilty. Wier released all but Maricle after their arrests last week.

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