Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine has told prosecution and defense attorneys that she will transfer the criminal case of former Blue Grass Airport executive director Michael Gobb to another judge if either side objects to her imposing sentence on Gobb.
"Avoiding the appearance of impropriety is very important to me," Goodwine said in a letter to Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson and defense attorney Patrick Nash.
At issue is Goodwine's service on an airport citizens advisory committee in 2002 and 2003. Gobb and three airport directors, John Rhodes, John Coon and John Slone, were at advisory committee meetings attended by Goodwine.
The judge recently gave Rhodes, Coon and Slone conditional discharges after they accepted plea deals and pleaded guilty to theft-related counts involving their expenditures of airport money. With a conditional discharge, a person avoids jail time if he stays out of legal trouble for a specified period. Prosecutors had recommended more severe penalties for the three men.
In a plea deal, Gobb recently pleaded guilty to two felony counts of theft by deception. He is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 13.
The four men were indicted in October after the state attorney general's office and the FBI spent more than nine months investigating spending of airport money. The airport board forced Gobb, Rhodes, Coon and Slone to resign from their positions in January 2009.
Goodwine's tie to the airport by her advisory committee membership led to her stepping down from presiding over two civil legal cases several years earlier. One involved lawsuits stemming from the 2006 crash of Comair Flight 5191 after takeoff from the airport; the other involved property connected to the airport.
Goodwine said in the letter, dated July 7, that if either prosecution or defense attorneys object to her imposing sentence on Gobb, she would honor that wish, set aside Gobb's guilty plea, reinstate dismissed charges in the indictment against Gobb and transfer Gobb's case to another court division.
Gobb was indicted on nine counts of felony theft by deception. The commonwealth's attorney's office has recommended that Gobb serve five years in prison on each of the two counts to which he has pleaded guilty.
"I would say at this point I haven't identified any reason for her to recuse, so I have not filed an objection up to this point," said Nash, Gobb's attorney, on Monday
"Because the case is pending, I'm not in the position to make any comment," Larson said.
Goodwine said in the letter that she had attended four out of six meetings of the advisory committee: on Jan. 16, April 29 and Nov. 20, 2002; and April 21, 2003.
Goodwine also said in the letter that she has no recollection of attending more than one meeting of the airport advisory committee and doesn't know which meeting she remembers attending.
"I have no personal recollection of ever meeting Mr. Gobb, Mr. Rhodes, Mr. Slone or Mr. Coon, nor having any conversations with them either at these meetings or otherwise."
Goodwine went on to say that she has always recused herself from any case in which she or her husband knows a defendant or the defendant's family, or has had any "intricate" business or civic dealings with them. She said that had she recalled her participation on the airport citizens advisory committee she would have revealed that when Gobb, Rhodes, Coon and Slone were arraigned and would have asked prosecution and defense attorneys whether they wanted another judge.
"I would have honored your wishes either way," she said.
In 2007, Comair asked Goodwine to recuse herself from presiding over lawsuits related to the Comair crash because of her service on the advisory committee. Goodwine has 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, directing 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.
The Herald-Leader asked the airport for records of the citizens advisory committee — making no mention of Goodwine — on June 29, after Goodwine had told the newspaper that she recalled attending only one meeting of the committee and that her service on the committee was "tenuous at best." The airport supplied copies of those records to the newspaper July 7.
The airport also sent copies 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 told the newspaper a couple of days later.
Goodwine says in the letter to Larson and Nash that she requested the copies of the airport advisory committee records "in order to make full disclosure to all parties."
Reach Jennifer Hewlett at (859) 231-3308 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3308.