Politics & Government

Richards urges appeal of ruling on Fletcher

FRANKFORT - House Speaker Jody Richards said yesterday prosecutors in the attorney general's office should appeal a judge's ruling in Gov. Ernie Fletcher's indictment to clear up the issue of how much protection a governor has under executive immunity.

Special Franklin District Judge David E. Melcher ruled Friday that Fletcher, a Republican, cannot be tried on three misdemeanor charges involving a state hiring scandal until he leaves office or is impeached. The judge cited executive immunity in making his decision.

Richards, D-Bowling Green, said he thinks that executive immunity in the case is too broad, and that the issue should be determined by the state's higher courts.

"I don't think it's a very good decision and I think it should be appealed," Richards told reporters at the Capitol after attending the formal investiture of Supreme Court Justice John D. Minton Jr. of Bowling Green.

Vicki Glass, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Greg Stumbo's office, said the office is waiting for Melcher's written order, to be issued Friday, before deciding whether to appeal.

Fletcher, who also attended Minton's swearing-in ceremony, told reporters he had nothing to say about Melcher's ruling.

Asked how he can run for re-election as an indicted governor, Fletcher said, "I'm not going to address that situation. We are going to continue moving forward."

Fletcher's press secretary, Jodi Whitaker, referred additional questions to the governor's attorney, Steve Pitt of Louisville. Pitt said he could not comment on what his client might do.

A special Franklin County grand jury indicted Fletcher on May 11 for allegedly basing personnel decisions on political considerations. The governor has pleaded not guilty, and has tried to get the charges dismissed. It is not clear whether he will continue to pursue that with higher courts.

The special grand jury, which was impaneled in June 2005 at Stumbo's request, met yesterday and is to meet today, Wednesday and Thursday. Its current 90-day term is to expire Thursday.

Assistant Attorney General Scott Crawford-Sutherland, who has been working with the jury, said he is reviewing whether he will ask the courts to extend the grand jury's term for another 90 days.