Judge was at several airport meetings

Records show Goodwine attended at least 3 with ex-officials she sentenced

jhewlett@herald-leader.comJuly 11, 2010 

Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine

Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine attended at least three meetings of a Blue Grass Airport citizens advisory committee in 2002 and 2003, according to airport records obtained by the Herald-Leader.

Four former airport officials who have recently appeared before Goodwine in court attended at least two of the committee meetings Goodwine attended, according to documents. Last month, Goodwine told the Herald-Leader that her service on the advisory committee was "tenuous at best" and that she did not know any of the four airport officials.

The issue of Goodwine's service on the committee came up last month after she gave three former airport officials conditional discharges — meaning they will avoid jail time as long as they do not get into any legal trouble — after they pleaded guilty to theft-related charges stemming from their expenditure of airport money. The sentences were less severe than those recommended by prosecutors.

Goodwine's tie to the airport by her membership in the committee had led to her stepping down from presiding over two civil legal cases a few years earlier. One involved lawsuits stemming from the 2006 crash of Comair Flight 5191 after takeoff from the airport; the other involved land next to the airport.

A woman answering the phone in Goodwine's office said Goodwine did not have further comment. A lawyer for the airport said the documents provided to the Herald-Leader were also given to Goodwine.

"When the airport receives an inquiry regarding someone's voluntary service to the airport, it generally tries to make the volunteer aware of the inquiry," airport attorney Tom Halbleib said Friday.

Goodwine said last month that she didn't remember much about being on the committee and had never given it a thought while presiding over the criminal cases of former airport executive director Michael Gobb and former airport directors John Rhodes, John Coon and John Slone. The judge said she would have considered recusing herself from the cases if defense or prosecution attorneys had asked her to, but they did not.

Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson previously said he never heard about Goodwine's service on the airport advisory committee or her stepping down from the civil cases. Larson said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the matter because one case is still pending.

Airport records

Copies of airport records obtained last week from the airport by the Herald-Leader indicate that Goodwine attended at least three out of six meetings of the committee, which occurred in 2002 and 2003, when she was a Fayette district court judge. Goodwine was either present or sent a representative to a fourth committee meeting, according to airport records.

Goodwine said last month that she thought she was on the committee, which assisted the airport board in developing the airport's 2005 master plan update, in the mid-1990s. Airport spokesman Brian Ellestad said no records of the existence of such a committee in the mid-1990s could be found.

According to airport records, Gobb, Rhodes, Coon and Slone were present at some of the committee meetings Goodwine attended. Goodwine said last month that she didn't remember meeting any of the four men at the one committee session she thought she attended.

"I didn't know these guys," she told the Herald-Leader last month. "I still don't know them."

The airport records indicate that Goodwine was present or had a representative at a meeting of the committee on Jan. 16, 2002. According to airport records, Goodwine attended meetings of the committee on April 29, 2002, Nov. 20, 2002, and April 21, 2003.

Gobb, Rhodes, Coon and Slone were present at the April 29, 2002, and April 21, 2003, committee meetings, records show. Gobb, Slone and Rhodes were in attendance at the Nov. 20, 2002, meeting.

Gobb participated in discussions during at least one of the committee meetings — the April 21, 2003, meeting that Goodwine attended, according to records.

Serving on the 14-member airport advisory committee with Goodwine were several airport board members, including Bernard Lovely. Later, Lovely would be chairman of the airport board when a spending scandal broke at the airport, leading to the indictments of Gobb, Rhodes, Coon and Slone.

In 2007, Comair asked Goodwine to recuse herself from presiding over lawsuits related to the crash of Comair Flight 5191 because of her service on the airport citizens advisory committee. Goodwine said she recused herself.

In 2008, the state Court of Appeals sent a property condemnation case that had been dismissed by Goodwine back to Fayette Circuit Court, with the direction that Goodwine recuse herself.

The plaintiff in the property case had seen a newspaper article about Comair asking Goodwine to recuse herself from the crash cases, leading the plaintiff to appeal to the higher court, according to court documents.

Goodwine has said her role with the airport advisory committee has had nothing to do with the way she has handled the cases of Gobb, Rhodes, Coon and Slone.

Light sentences

The four former airport officials were indicted in October after law enforcement agencies, including the state attorney general's office and the FBI, spent more than nine months investigating spending at the airport.

The Herald-Leader reported last year that the top five leaders of the airport, including the four who were indicted, spent more than $530,000 on travel, meals, entertainment and other expenses from 2006 through 2008.

A report last year by State Auditor Crit Luallen's office detailed more than $500,000 in undocumented or questionable expenses made by seven top airport officials, including Gobb, Rhodes, Coon and Slone, from Jan. 1, 2006, through Dec. 31, 2008.

The airport board forced Gobb, Rhodes, Coon and Slone to resign in January 2009.

Rhodes, who was initially charged with six counts of felony theft by deception, accepted a plea deal and pleaded guilty to one count. Prosecutors recommended that the other five counts be dropped and that Rhodes serve five years in prison. Goodwine sentenced Rhodes to 21/2 years in prison, but conditionally discharged him for five years.

Coon and Slone, initially charged with one count each of felony theft by deception, also accepted plea deals, with each pleading guilty to one count of criminal attempt to commit theft by deception, a misdemeanor.

Prosecutors recommended the men serve 12 months in jail. Goodwine sentenced them to 12 months each, but conditionally discharged them for two years.

Gobb, who was indicted on nine counts of felony theft by deception, has pleaded guilty to two counts in a plea deal. Prosecutors have recommended that he serve five years for each of the two felony counts. Gobb is to be sentenced Aug. 13.

"Our recommendations in these cases are what they are," Larson said on Friday. "It's our job to prosecute these cases, and when a person chooses to plead guilty, to make a recommendation. It then becomes the judge's responsibility to determine the punishment."

Reach Jennifer Hewlett at (859) 231-3308 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3308.

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