Prosecutor had affair with, impregnated defendant in drug case, court records allege

jcheves@herald-leader.comJuly 17, 2014 

— Wayne County Commonwealth's Attorney Matthew Leveridge started a two-month sexual relationship with and impregnated a Wayne County woman whom he prosecuted for felony drug trafficking and who remains on probation through 2016, according to allegations raised in two court cases. According to the allegations, the affair began in January.

Leveridge filed a motion June 12 to revoke the probation of Latisha Lashley Sartain and send her to prison after she ended their affair and revealed her pregnancy to Leveridge's wife, according to court records. Leveridge's wife is suing him for divorce and sole custody of their child, alleging the affair with Sartain and other women, mental and physical abuse, and a history of bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse by her husband.

The allegations against Leveridge are contained in records in two court proceedings — the divorce case and motions filed by Sartain's attorney in her criminal case.

Leveridge cited a pending misdemeanor shoplifting charge as his reason for revoking Sartain's probation. After filing the revocation motion, Leveridge disqualified himself and handed the case to Wayne County Attorney Thomas Simmons, who withdrew the motion this week.

"I'm not gonna comment," Simmons said Thursday. "That's those people's personal lives, and I'm not going to get into it."

Sartain's attorney, Larry Rogers, said Leveridge was wrong to start an affair with a criminal defendant. Given Leveridge's friendships in the local justice system, Sartain — whose baby is due around late October — doubts she can expect fair treatment "with a five-year prison sentence still hanging over her head" until February 2016, Rogers said.

"If you're a prosecutor, you're not even supposed to talk to a defendant without her attorney being present, much less — well, this," Rogers said. "Universally, I think everyone would agree this is a big, big, big no-no."

Leveridge declined to discuss the allegations Thursday.

"I'm not gonna have any comment on anything," he said. "I'll have things to say in the appropriate forums before the appropriate people."

Leveridge, 41, has prosecuted felonies in Wayne and Russell counties since 2007, including an unsuccessful manslaughter case against the father of a 20-month-old boy who drank drain cleaner allegedly used to make methamphetamine.

Leveridge pleaded guilty in 2009 to drunken driving in Somerset and paid a $200 fine. Three years later, Attorney General Jack Conway presented him with an award as 2012's outstanding commonwealth's attorney.

"Matthew never turns down a special prosecution and is a tremendous asset to the prosecutorial system and to the residents of Russell and Wayne counties," Conway said at the time.

His office would not comment Thursday on the current allegations against Leveridge.

"If there are ethical violations, those would fall under the Kentucky Bar Association," said Conway spokesman Daniel Kemp.

"The Prosecutors Advisory Council and the Office of the Attorney General may take action to begin the removal from office of a prosecutor if he or she is indicted on felony charges," Kemp said. "If criminal misconduct is alleged, those charges could be investigated by Kentucky State Police, the Office of the Attorney General or the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Our office neither confirms or denies the existence of an investigation or lack thereof."

The state's professional conduct rules prohibit lawyers from "commit(ing) a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects" or "engag(ing) in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation."

Leveridge's wife, Bernadette, has filed for divorce and sole custody of their child in Russell Family Court. In her court filings, she alleges that in addition to "numerous" extramarital affairs, Matthew Leveridge suffers from "a serious history of mental illness" and has threatened repeatedly to kill himself or hurt others.

"Matthew has repeatedly engaged in seriously inappropriate conduct for which he could be disbarred," Bernadette Leveridge, also a lawyer, wrote in an affidavit Monday.

"I am concerned for my safety and that of our child," she said in her affidavit. "He has his guns, is continuing to drink alcohol, often uses abusive language during telephone and in-person conversations, and has stated that he discontinued treatment for psychological problems after I filed for separation."

Bernadette Leveridge also included a purported transcript of a telephone conversation she had this year with Sartain about the woman's affair with her husband. During the call, Sartain said she broke the news about her pregnancy to Matthew Leveridge by text message.

"He goes, 'I'm gonna get sick,'" Sartain told Bernadette Leveridge, according to the transcript in the divorce file. "I told him I was so sorry, and he says, 'It's not your fault, I guess I should've kept it in my pants.'"

Rogers, Sartain's attorney, said he had copies of extensive text message exchanges between his client and Matthew Leveridge.

John Cheves: (859) 231-3266. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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