Judge Goodwine recuses herself from League of Cities case

Judge's airport ties to husband of defendant cited in request

jhewlett@herald-leader.comAugust 12, 2010 

Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine has recused herself from presiding over a civil case in part because of her service on a Blue Grass Airport citizens' advisory committee.

The City of Cold Spring, which sued the Kentucky League of Cities and others several months ago, asked Goodwine last month to step down from the case because she served on the airport committee with Bernard Lovely, the husband of defendant and former League executive director Sylvia Lovely.

Goodwine agreed to step down; Fayette Circuit Judge Thomas Clark will be hearing the case.

In recent years, Goodwine has stepped down from presiding over cases involving lawsuits stemming from the 2006 crash of Comair Flight 5191 and property connected to the airport because of her service on the volunteer committee. But she has not recused herself from recent criminal cases of four former airport officials who were present at airport advisory committee meetings that she attended.

A woman answering the phone in Goodwine's office on Wednesday said the judge had no comment.

Cold Spring city attorney Brandon Voelker indicated Wednesday that Goodwine's service on the airport advisory committee was not of as much concern in his city's case as her association with Bernard Lovely.

"It wasn't so much the airport board (committee) as it was Bernie Lovely," he said.

Cold Spring, in its lawsuit, is seeking to recoup money spent by the League of Cities on expenses, high salaries and loans to employees. The League is a membership organization that provides insurance and financing services to cities throughout the state.

Cold Spring Mayor Mark Stoeber estimated his city had spent $1 million in the past 10 years on League membership and insurance premiums and said he would like the money returned.

"Through their abdication of responsibility, the board of directors allowed the Kentucky League of Cities to spend multimillions of taxpayers' dollars in an unlawful manner," Stoeber said just after the suit was filed.

A state audit found numerous conflicts of interest and questionable bonus practices within the League.

Voelker, in a motion seeking Goodwine's recusal from his city's case, indicated that Bernard Lovely would be a key witness. The state auditor's office said Sylvia Lovely made conflict of interest transactions by giving her husband's law firm millions of dollars in legal work and his restaurant significant amounts of money, the motion says.

Voelker also noted in his motion that Goodwine was employed by the law firm Wyatt Tarrant & Combs at the time the firm made legal filings for corporate defendants named in the lawsuit. The firm drafted all of the operating agreements of the League and its for-profit insurance and finance subsidiaries, Voelker said Wednesday.

"I just wanted to bring it to her attention and to make sure that she was able to preside over the case," he said.

In 2007, Comair asked Goodwine to recuse herself from presiding over lawsuits related to the crash of Com air Flight 5191 because of her service on the airport citizens' advisory committee in 2002 and 2003. Goodwine has said she recused herself.

In 2008, the state Court of Appeals sent the property case, an inverse condemnation case that had been dismissed by Goodwine, back to Fayette Circuit Court with the direction that the judge 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 issue of Goodwine's service on the Blue Grass Airport citizens' advisory committee came up again in June after she gave three former airport directors — John Rhodes, John Coon and John Slone — conditional discharges after they pleaded guilty to theft-related charges stemming from their expenditure of airport money. The sentences were lighter than those recommended by prosecutors. Former airport executive director Michael Gobb, who has pleaded guilty to two counts of felony theft by deception, is scheduled to be sentenced by Goodwine on Friday.

All four men attended airport citizens' advisory committee meetings attended by Goodwine, according to airport records. The judge has said she did not remember meeting any of the men while she was a member of the committee.

Goodwine has told Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Ray 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. Larson has said his office does not intend to ask Goodwine to step down from Gobb's case. Nash has said he has not identified any reason for Goodwine to recuse herself.

Larson told Goodwine in a letter 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."

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

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