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Danville school officials reach settlement; charges to be dropped

Misdemeanor charges against two members of the Danville Independent school board will be dismissed in six months as the result of a settlement reached Wednesday in Boyle District Court.

Julie Erwin and Lonnie Harp each were charged by the state attorney general's in September with a misdemeanor count of engaging in prohibited political activities.

The two board members were charged after they "very innocently" sent an e-mail to about 120 people announcing their candidacies for school board, said defense attorney Ephraim Helton. The list included about 20 or so teachers in the Danville district, Helton said.

The e-mail asked anyone willing to put up a yard sign, write a letter to the local newspaper or call registered voters to contact Erwin or Harp. Erwin and Harp were elected in November 2008 and assumed office last year.

State law says, "No candidate for school board shall solicit or accept any political assessment, subscription, contribution or service of any employee of the school district."

According to a "deferment agreement" reached Wednesday, the case will be continued until July 14, and if there are no further violations, the case will be dismissed with prejudice, Helton said. That means the charges cannot be reinstated.

The defendants stipulate that "based upon the information received by the office of the attorney general, there was probable cause for filing the complaint," Helton said. "However, the stipulation of probable cause does not mean the defendants concede or admit their guilt."

"Our position has been that neither Julie nor Lonnie committed any criminal offense, and that there was no intent to violate the statute, and that they didn't violate the statute," Helton said.

In a statement Thursday, the state attorney general's office said "there is no question" that Erwin and Harp violated the law.

"As neither defendant has a prior record, a settlement was reached wherein the commonwealth will defer prosecution for a period of six months," the statement said, and then dismiss the charges if there are no additional violations.

Erwin, a former teacher and school principal, is founder and executive director of an adoption agency. Harp, a former education reporter at the Lexington Herald-Leader and The Courier-Journal, has written and published newsletters for parents and teachers about academic standards.

Erwin and Harp each paid $762.50 in restitution that repaid the cost for an investigator with the state attorney general's office to conduct interviews about the case, Helton said.

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