Witness: Clay judge helped buy votes for his wife

bestep@herald-leader.comFebruary 9, 2010 

FRANKFORT — The current circuit judge in Clay County put up cash to buy votes for his wife in Manchester city council races, a federal witness testified Monday.

Oscar Gayle House, who was district judge at the time but has since become circuit judge, gave $2,000 in 2002 to buy votes for his wife, Sherry House, Vernon Hacker said.

The judge also gave money to buy votes for his wife in 2004, Hacker said, but he did not specify an amount.

Hacker, a former council member and director of the city-county 911 system, testified in a federal trial in Frankfort involving eight Clay County residents, several of them current or former public officials, charged with buying votes.

Witnesses have testified about alleged vote-buying by those charged.

But there also has been testimony about alleged illegal activity by a number of people not charged in the case, as prosecutors try to show the background and reach of the alleged vote-fraud conspiracy at issue in the trial.

House and his wife, for instance, are not charged.

Hacker, who was on the Manchester council from 1993 to 2006, said it was common practice for several council candidates to put in $1,000 to $2,000 apiece for a common vote-buying effort.

"We would pay the voters," Hacker said.

In the fall 2002 and 2004 non-partisan council races, Penny Robinson and Laura House put in money, as well as Oscar Gayle House for his wife, Hacker said.

In addition, then-county school Superintendent Douglas Adams gave Hacker $500 cash to help Jeff Deaton in the city council race in 2004.

Adams, who retired last year, is one of those charged in the current case.

The others are former Circuit Judge R. Cletus Maricle; county Clerk Freddy W. Thompson; Magistrate Stanley Bowling; Charles Wayne Jones, a former county Democratic election commissioner; William Stivers, who has served as an election official; and William "Bart" Morris and his wife, Debra.

Maricle and Adams allegedly headed a scheme to hold power through vote fraud, while the others allegedly bought votes or helped rig elections.

They have pleaded not guilty. The case against them rests largely on suspect information from convicted felons trying to get their sentences cut by testifying for the government, defense attorneys have said.

Hacker pleaded guilty in 2007 to conspiracy to distribute drugs and is serving a 10-year sentence.

Hacker testified Monday that he had delivered money to Jones and Stivers to pay voters and had paid voters along with Bart and Debra Morris. However, Debra Morris' attorney, Elizabeth Hughes, suggested in her questions that the Morrises actually were out of town one Election Day when Hacker said they were paying voters.

Another witness, D. Kennon White, son of Daugh K. White, who was mayor of Manchester for nearly 30 years before he was defeated in 2006, said he cut his teeth in politics buying votes for his father and aunt, Barbara White Colter.

White said people, including Maricle, came to meetings at his father's car dealership, White Chevrolet, to organize vote-buying.

Once when White's father was running, a vote-buyer came back and asked for an additional $1,700 because he'd been able to line up more people to sell votes than he'd anticipated, White said.

The first time Barbara White Colter ran for office in the mid-1990s, White said he got an education in crooked politics as he drove around the county delivering money to vote-buyers with Jennings B. White, who served two terms as county clerk.

They took $5,000 to $6,000 to Adams in that race, Kennon White said.

Jennings White put together $70,000 to $80,000 for the race, which Colter won, White said.

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