Politics & Government

Grand jury issues final report

FRANKFORT - The special Franklin County grand jury that has been investigating the hiring practices of Gov. Ernie Fletcher's administration issued its final report yesterday to a judge, but it remains under seal.

Chief Franklin Circuit Judge Reed Rhorer said he will set a hearing date for the parties involved -- Fletcher, Attorney General Greg Stumbo and former Franklin Circuit Judge William L. Graham -- to voice any objections to the report before making it public. The hearing will be closed.

If no objections are filed, Rhorer said, he will make the report public. Rhorer said the hearing would be held in a few weeks, but didn't give a specific date.

"I have no reason to think anybody is going to object," said Assistant Attorney General Scott Crawford-Sutherland, who has been working with the grand jury since its inception in June 2005.

Jim Deckard, Fletcher's general counsel, said the governor "will be glad to comply with whatever the judge says."

He said he could not say whether there will be any objections to the grand jury report, "because we won't see it until the hearing."

Crawford-Sutherland said he did not like that Fletcher and his legal team will be able to see the report before it is made public. But he said he does not expect to appeal the judge's ruling.

The sealed envelope carrying the grand jury report looked thin, as though it contained a limited number of pages. Crawford-Sutherland declined to comment on the envelope's thickness, but did note that a higher court had said the jury could not name in its final report persons who had been pardoned by Fletcher a year ago or who had not been indicted. Fletcher's broad pardon covered persons indicted by the grand jury, excluding himself.

In sealing the report, Rhorer said he simply was following an order from the Kentucky Court of Appeals on how to handle the report and possible objections. He also said it is "conceivable" that any of the parties involved might appeal any ruling from the hearing.

Rhorer did not disband the grand jury, but Crawford-Sutherland said he does not anticipate any more work for the panel. The jury's term expires Nov. 15.

The judge reminded reporters that the grand jury is still active and its members cannot talk about the case.

The special grand jury began investigating state hiring decisions in June 2005 and charged Fletcher in May with three criminal misdemeanors -- alleged conspiracy, official misconduct and political discrimination.

But the charges were dropped in August when Fletcher and Stumbo agreed to a settlement.

The jury indicted 15 people, including Fletcher, and returned 14 indictments that remain sealed.