Larson won't seek judge's recusal in Gobb's sentencing

jhewlett@herald-leader.comAugust 4, 2010 

Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson says his office does not intend to ask Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine to step down from the criminal case of former Blue Grass Airport Executive Director Michael Gobb.

Larson made the statement in a letter hand-delivered to Goodwine on Tuesday.

However, Larson told the judge that she is obligated to withdraw from the case on her "own motion" if she "has personal and independent knowledge of the facts underlying this case, or if any contacts with the defendant or other interested parties have resulted in any bias for or against anyone."

Last month, Goodwine wrote to Larson and Patrick Nash, Gobb's attorney, that she would transfer Gobb's case to another judge if either side objected to her imposing sentence on Gobb.

Goodwine's letter stemmed from news accounts about her having served on a Blue Grass Airport citizens advisory committee in 2002 and 2003 and her having stepped down from other airport-related legal cases because of her membership on the committee.

Gobb and three then-airport directors, John Rhodes, John Coon and John Slone, who were indicted in October on theft charges related to their spending of airport money, were at advisory committee meetings attended by Goodwine.

The judge, who recently gave Rhodes, Coon and Slone conditional discharges after they accepted plea deals and pleaded guilty to theft-related charges, has maintained that she remembers little about her service on the advisory committee and that she does not recall having met Gobb, Rhodes, Coon or Slone before they appeared in court.

Gobb, who has accepted a plea deal and recently pleaded guilty to two felony counts of theft by deception, is scheduled to be sentenced by Goodwine on Aug. 13.

"Neither the airport nor the airport board are parties in this case, and there is no reason to believe that the Airport Citizen's Advisory Board, upon which you served, had anything to do with the theft or misappropriation of funds from the airport accounts," Larson said in the letter.

Larson also said in the letter that the commonwealth's attorney's office was not aware of the cases in which Goodwine recused herself at the time those recusals were made or at the time Gobb's case was assigned to her. One of the cases involved lawsuits stemming from the 2006 crash of Comair Flight 5191; the other involved property next to the airport.

In 2007, Comair asked Goodwine to recuse herself from presiding over lawsuits related to the Comair crash because of her service on the airport 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.

Goodwine declined to comment about Larson's letter. Nash, who has previously said that he has not identified any reason for Goodwine to recuse herself, also declined to comment.

Gobb, Rhodes, Coon and Slone were indicted after the state attorney general's office and the FBI spent more than nine months investigating spending of airport money. The airport board forced the four men to resign.

The sentences that Goodwine gave Rhodes, Coon and Slone were less severe than prosecutors recommended.

Goodwine sentenced Rhodes to 21/2 years, but conditionally discharged him for five years. The judge sentenced Coon and Slone to 12 months each, but conditionally discharged them for two years. Under a conditional discharge, a person avoids jail time if he stays out of trouble with the law.

Prosecutors have recommended that Gobb, who initially was indicted on nine counts of felony theft by deception, receive five years on each of the two counts to which he has pleaded guilty.

Reach Jennifer Hewlett at (859) 231-3308 or 1-800-231-3308.

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