Federal appeals court upholds conviction of Knott judge-executive in vote-buying case

jkegley@herald-leader.comSeptember 11, 2012 

The United States 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati on Tuesday upheld federal convictions of a Knott County judge-executive and three co-defendants in a vote-buying scandal.

In 2008, a jury convicted Judge-Executive Randy Thompson of misusing public funds and scheming to buy votes in the November 2006 election.

Evidence presented at trial in U.S. District Court showed Thompson and his co-defendants used public funds to pave private driveways and build bridges on private property in exchange for votes from property owners and their families, according to the opinion.

Jurors also convicted John Mac Combs and Phillip G. Champion, assistants to the judge-executive, and Ronnie Adams, a former magistrate who worked for the county, with taking part in the scheme.

In 2009, Thompson was sentenced to 40 months in prison, Combs to 36 months, Champion to 18 months and Adams to 32 months. Their sentences were postponed while the case was on appeal.

They appealed based on a number of allegations, including insufficient evidence and inflammatory comments by prosecutors which they said violated their due-process rights, the opinion said. All four men had denied doing anything illegal.

However, the appeals court in a 39-page opinion upheld the convictions after applying numerous laws and legal precedents to each of the defendants' claims.

"Based on the foregoing review of the record, we find no error in the district court's decisions," the opinion said. "For this reason, the defendants' convictions and sentences are affirmed."

It was unclear Tuesday when the men might start serving their sentences. First, the appeals court must mandate its opinion — essentially ordering the trial court to uphold the ruling. The sentences could be delayed further if the defendants choose to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thompson, reached by phone Tuesday night, deferred comment to his attorney, R. Kent Westberry of Louisville.

Westberry said he had not yet read the opinion and was not prepared to comment.

The opinion described Knott County as "a county with a history of political and electoral corruption."

In 2006, Thompson became Knott County's first elected Republican judge-executive, a position he currently holds. Thompson had been appointed to the position months earlier when his predecessor, Donnie Newsome, a Democrat, resigned after spending 10 months in prison in a separate vote-buying case.

Thompson was re-elected for a second full term in 2010, while his conviction was being appealed.

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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