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Road builder's defense issues subpoenas

Defense lawyers for indicted road contractor Leonard Lawson have subpoenaed records from a Kentucky road contractor about the company's bids for state highway contracts and any information it turned over to federal investigators.

But federal prosecutors have asked that a federal judge OK the subpoenas before Hinkle Contracting and Nally & Gibson of Georgetown, which is also a Hinkle company, supply information that defense attorneys want. And a lawyer for the Hinkle companies said Wednesday that his clients have done nothing wrong.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Taylor, in documents filed Tuesday in federal court in Lexington, said the companies have not yet complied with the request. Taylor argues that defense lawyers have abused the subpoena process and that defense lawyers should go through the court or the judge to issue subpoenas.

In court documents, defense lawyers have argued that third parties routinely work out voluntary production of documents without intervention by a judge or the court.

Lawson, former Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert, and Lawson employee Brian Billings were indicted in September on charges that they tampered with bids for more than $130 million in state road contracts for Lawson-related companies. Prosecutors allege that Lawson paid former transportation employee James Rummage $20,000 in cash for providing Lawson internal cabinet estimates on road projects that Lawson companies bid on.

All three have pleaded not guilty.

Defense lawyers and prosecutors have argued about what information can be turned over to defense lawyers in the bid-tampering case, including tape recordings made by Rummage on his private cell phone. A hearing on some of those arguments will be held Monday.

Larry Mackey, an attorney for Lawson, has asked for any information from Hinkle Contracting and Nally & Gibson regarding two contracts. One was a $49 million joint contract between Nally & Gibson and Central Rock Mineral Co., a Lawson company. The second subpoena was for a contract for restroom and vending facilities on Interstate 71/75 in Boone and Kenton Counties where Hinkle Contracting was the high bidder. Two contractors had lower bids, and the contract went to another company.

Defense lawyers are looking information received by Hinkle Contracting regarding the project before it was bid, information on who prepared the company's bids, and any information that Hinkle employees might have turned over to federal investigators.

Marc Murphy, an attorney for Hinkle Contracting and Nally & Gibson, said the Hinkle companies have not been accused of any wrongdoing.

"There is no evidence that they did anything improper," Murphy said of Hinkle.

Murphy said his client will comply with the defense lawyer's subpoena if the judge orders it.

Murphy said it was a coincidence that his law firm, Stites & Harbison, represented both Rummage and the Hinkle companies. Because the two are merely witnesses in the case, it is not a conflict of interest, Murphy said.

Larry Mackey, a lawyer for Lawson, declined to elaborate on why the defense was seeking information on those bids.