Politics & Government

Lexington attorney was key to deal

FRANKFORT - Final touches on the agreement between Gov. Ernie Fletcher and prosecutors to drop charges against the governor came late yesterday morning after three days of intense negotiations aided by a Lexington lawyer who recently joined Fletcher's legal team.

Even though seeds were planted two months ago to find a way to resolve the scandal, negotiations for a settlement did not accelerate until Fletcher tapped Bill May as the newest member of his defense team.

During a news conference yesterday afternoon, Fletcher said May was "a bridge trusted by both parties who helped us reach this resolution."

May, a partner in the Lexington firm of Crosbie, Hurt and May, has deep ties to both sides. He is a friend of Fletcher's general counsel Jim Deckard. One of his law partners is well-known Lexington Republican Scott Crosbie, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2002.

But May also is a Democrat, who served as the party's general counsel under former Gov. Paul Patton. He also worked with Attorney General Greg Stumbo on drumming up support for Jerry Lundergan to become state Democratic Party chairman.

Stumbo was reluctant to participate in any negotiations until May came on board, which he did late last week.

Two previous attempts at a resolution failed. The first was initiated by Deckard last July. Then former Democratic Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. made a pitch a few months later.

This time, informal negotiations that began seven weeks ago blossomed.

Steve Pitt, one of Fletcher's attorneys, said yesterday that Deputy Attorney General Pierce Whites approached Kent Westberry, another Fletcher attorney, in July about a possible resolution. Whites said he "simply encouraged Westberry to think creatively, to find something they could agree on."

The negotiations intensified Monday when Fletcher's attorneys formally asked for Stumbo's participation.

Since Stumbo had been ordered by a judge not to participate in the case because of his possible run for governor next year against Fletcher, a court-approved waiver was needed.

"There were several waivers, maybe three," Whites said. "That's because the first one, I believe, only was good for one day and then it expired." The last waiver for Stumbo expired midnight Wednesday.

The negotiations included meetings in the Capitol and telephone conference calls. Fletcher never appeared at any of them.

On Wednesday, Stumbo was adamant that Fletcher's four appointments to the Personnel Board be removed and that he have a role in replacing them. That condition sparked Fletcher and his top aides to personally get signed resignations from the board members in question.

A general agreement was reached before 6 p.m. Wednesday. Fletcher said he reviewed the basic agreement with his attorneys late Wednesday night after returning from Harlan County.

The last hurdle in the negotiations came late yesterday morning, Whites said.

The governor had signed his name to only part of the agreement, not all of it, Whites said. "When we said he needed to sign for it all, they pulled out another copy in their briefcase that had his signature for all of it."

At 11:15 a.m., the agreement was sent to the judge, who approved it.

Shortly after that, both Stumbo and Fletcher scheduled news conferences to tell what they had wrought.