Two unsuccessful candidates proved there was vote-buying in the November election in Magoffin County, but the evidence was not strong enough to warrant throwing out the results, a circuit judge ruled Wednesday.
Perry Circuit Judge William Engle, sitting as a special judge in the case, dismissed the challenge to the election results.
Republican John P. Montgomery lost the judge-executive's race to incumbent Charles "Doc" Hardin, a Democrat. Incumbent Sheriff Randall Bob Jordan, a Democrat, lost to Republican challenger Carson Montgomery.
John P. Montgomery and Jordan alleged in lawsuits that the results were corrupted by vote-buying and asked to be declared the winners of their races.
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Engle heard the case without a jury.
Several witnesses testified that Randy Salyer, a Democrat on the county election board, or relatives of Carson Montgomery's wife paid the witnesses $50 to $100 for their signed absentee ballot, Engle said in his decision.
Buying a ballot that a voter has signed, but not filled in, then putting the names of candidates on it is one way to buy votes.
Hardin did not testify, but told the Herald-Leader earlier he was not involved in buying votes and had no personal knowledge of it.
Carson Montgomery did testify, saying he hadn't talked to Salyer for months before the November election and that he had no knowledge of the actions of vote-buyers, according to the decision.
Salyer, whose wife works for Hardin, also testified, but declined to answer many questions to avoid incriminating himself, according to the decision.
Engle said it was clear there was fraud in the election.
The judge also said the losing candidates had, to some extent, raised strong suspicion that Carson Montgomery and Hardin knew about the illegal acts of their supporters.
However, Engle said setting aside the election results would require clear and convincing evidence that the winning candidates procured, consented to or had knowledge of vote-buying.
The losing candidates did not present such evidence, Engle ruled.
Lexington lawyer James L. Deckard, who represented Carson Montgomery, said the new sheriff was humbled by residents' support.
"The judge's dismissal of the lawsuit will allow Carson to focus on serving the people as sheriff without distraction," Deckard said.
However, Prestonsburg lawyer Ned Pillersdorf, who represented John P. Montgomery and Jordan, said he would recommend an appeal.
The decision raises a concern that "other people who want to get into this type of vote-buying activity will look at this and say, 'We've got the green light,'" Pillersdorf said.
State and federal investigations of the election continue, Pillersdorf said.