Politics & Government

Governor can ask for speedy trial

FRANKFORT - Special Franklin District Judge David Melcher yesterday filed his order that Gov. Ernie Fletcher cannot be tried on three criminal misdemeanor charges until he is out of office.

Melcher, who ruled last Friday from the bench during a pretrial conference, said Fletcher could waive his executive immunity and ask for a trial.

"Since this court is not certain what future legal steps the parties may take, this court shall review the record on Sept. 8" and either vacate or maintain the previously assigned trial date of Nov. 8, Melcher said.

"Even if present charges are well founded, they should not be pursued until the governor is either impeached or leaves office," Melcher wrote in the seven-page order.

Fletcher was indicted May 11 by a special Franklin County grand jury on charges that he offered protected state jobs for political reasons. He has pleaded not guilty.

Fletcher's press secretary, Jodi Whitaker, referred questions yesterday to Fletcher's defense attorney, Steve Pitt of Louisville.

Pitt said he will carefully review Melcher's order.

"I don't know at this time if it will be necessary or beneficial to take any new steps," Pitt said. "I have not yet talked to the governor since I got this."

Pitt said legal options for Fletcher, besides waiting to be tried until out of office, include waiving executive immunity and seeking a speedy trial or asking a higher court to dismiss the charges.

Vicki Glass, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Greg Stumbo's office, said the office is "pleased that the judge has denied the governor's motion to dismiss in each and every respect.

"The court has agreed with the office of the attorney general that the merit law protects the civil rights of state merit employees, even those on probation.

"The court has also held that the merit law is not vague or ambiguous as the governor's lawyers contend. In fact, the order states, 'Ordinary people can understand what it says.'"

Glass said the judge also found the indictment is clear in charging the governor "with being part of a conspiracy to hire and fire merit system employees based on their political affiliation.

"The court's ruling affirms the principle that no person is above the law."

The grand jury, empaneled in June 2005 at Stumbo's request, has indicted 15 people, including Fletcher. Fletcher, however, issued a blanket pardon for everyone in his administration charged in the investigation except himself.