Harlan judge cleared of drug charge

A grand jury has declined to indict Harlan County Judge-Executive Joe Grieshop on drug charges, rejecting a claim by a female informant that Grieshop gave her pills in his office.

The grand jury did not accept the woman's claim, voting unanimously last week not to issue charges against Grieshop, Commonwealth's Attorney Henry Johnson said Monday.

"He has been exonerated," Johnson said of Grieshop.

Controversy had flared over the case after Harlan Circuit Judge Russell Alred ordered that a special grand jury be set up to hear testimony.

The April 22 order spelled out that the grand jury would investigate "alleged illegal drug trafficking" by Grieshop. Someone provided copies of the order to the media two days later, Johnson said.

Grieshop said the drug allegation and the effort to publicize it were an attempt to torpedo him in the May 18 primary. Grieshop, a Democrat who has been in office since 1999, is seeking a fourth term.

"These were trumped-up allegations that had no basis to even be stated," Grieshop said.

Grieshop voluntarily took a lie-detector test, which showed he was not being deceptive when he denied providing drugs to the informant, Johnson said.

Alred's cousin is running against Grieshop in the primary election.

Alred said judicial ethics rules prohibit him from commenting on cases. However, politics had nothing to do with his order, the judge said.

"I've never let politics come into play in any decision I've made," he said.

Johnson said the case began last year. A woman trying to get leniency on drug charges told police she could get prescription pills from Grieshop, Johnson said.

Johnson did not identify the woman. Grieshop said her name is Missy Hensley.

Police had Hensley go to Grieshop's office three times while wearing a recording device. Each time, she came out with a pill, but the tape did not confirm her claim that she'd gotten it from the judge-executive, Johnson said.

In fact, the accounts the informant gave were inconsistent with the tape and other statements, Johnson said.

The informant could have gotten a pill from a source other than Grieshop during the transactions being supervised by authorities, Johnson said.

The Attorney General's Office, which investigated with Harlan County Sheriff Marvin Lipfird's office, said there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Grieshop, Johnson said.

Johnson said he had told Lipfird he should pursue the investigation after the woman made the allegation against Grieshop, the same as if it involved any other citizen.

After the decision by the Attorney General's Office, Alred said the case should be presented to a grand jury so the public would know the investigation had been thorough, Johnson said.

That panel would have met after the election.

But after the order confirming an investigation of Grieshop became public, Johnson said, he felt it was unfair to leave the matter hanging until after the vote.

Whether Grieshop was charged or cleared, it was better for voters to know the results before the election, Johnson said.

He took the case to the regular grand-jury panel instead of waiting for appointment of a special grand jury.