FRANKFORT — Lawyers for indicted road contractor Leonard Lawson want a state court judge to stop the Kentucky Attorney General from releasing statements Lawson made during a 1983 criminal case involving one of his former companies.
In a lawsuit filed Monday in Franklin Circuit Court, lawyers for Lawson argue that a recording and other statements made by Lawson in 1983 should not be released because it would invade his privacy and make it difficult for Lawson to get a fair trial in a current federal criminal case.
A hearing in the case is scheduled for July 20.
Shelley Catharine Johnson, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Jack Conway, said Monday that the office will not release any documents relating to the 1983 guilty plea of Mountain Enterprises, which Lawson has since sold, until after the July 20 hearing.
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Lawson, who faces federal criminal charges for allegedly bribing state road officials, tried unsuccessfully this month to get U.S. District Judge Karl Forester to issue an injunction to prevent the release of Lawson's statements. Forester ruled Thursday that he had no jurisdiction over the state's Open Records Act.
Mountain Enterprises pleaded guilty to violating anti-trust laws in a case that involved several state contractors who colluded on bids. The information that Lawson gave to investigators as part of the plea deal involves more than seven companies and about 18 people, some of whom were not charged. Those people are entitled to some degree of privacy, attorneys for Lawson argue.
The Courier-Journal, the Herald-Leader and The Associated Press had filed a request under the state's Open Records Act for information that Lawson gave during the 1983 case. The Attorney General's office, in a letter to the Courier-Journal, said some of the information — including an audio recording of Lawson — could be released under state law because that investigation is now closed.
All three news organizations and Conway are named as defendants in the Franklin Circuit Court lawsuit.
A judge has ruled that information regarding the 1983 conviction could not be used in the current federal case against Lawson. The release of that information to the media could taint a potential jury pool, defense lawyers for Lawson argue.
Also charged in the criminal case are former Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert and a Lawson employee, Brian Billings. Federal prosecutors say that Lawson paid state transportation employees for inside information and then tried to cover it up.
Also on Monday, Forester told defense lawyers and prosecutors that they had until Tuesday to say whether he should step down from the case because his son-in-law is a lobbyist for a state road contractor association.
Forester, in an order filed Monday, acknowledged that his son-in-law, Sean Cutter, is one of 14 registered lobbyists for the Kentucky Association of Highway Contractors. Lawson and his son have been active in that organization.
Forester told the Herald-Leader on Friday that he did not know that his son-in-law worked for the Frankfort-based Association of Highway Contractors until reporters contacted him about the possible conflict of interest.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Taylor, the prosecutor in the case, could not be reached for comment on Monday. But Larry Mackey, an attorney for Lawson, said he did not think that Forester should have to step down from the case.
If Forester recuses himself from the bid-rig trial, he will be the fourth judge to do so.