Politics & Government

Court says charges inappropriately tossed

FRANKFORT - The wrong judge dismissed charges against four people indicted in a state hiring investigation, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.

A three-judge appeals court panel said the misdemeanor charges should have been dismissed, but not by Franklin County Circuit Judge William Graham who presided over the case because it originated from a grand jury that reported to him. Graham, who has retired, should have sent the case down to district court, which handles misdemeanor charges.

Graham had dismissed the charges against former Fletcher chief of staff Daniel Groves, Fletcher aide Vince Fields and political supporters Dave Disponett of Lawrenceburg and J. Marshall Hughes of Bowling Green, because they were covered by a gubernatorial pardon.

Prosecutors in Attorney General Greg Stumbo's office had appealed Graham's ruling dismissing the charges. That led to yesterday's ruling, which essentially changes nothing.

"While a remand to district court will needlessly prolong a case that will immediately be dismissed on the basis of the pardon, we must vacate the circuit court's order as it is without jurisdiction to act," Daniel T. Guidugli wrote in the ruling.

Vicki Glass, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, declined to comment on the appeals court ruling. Defense attorney Paul Harnice said he agrees that the ruling needlessly prolongs the case.

"All we're doing here is just delaying the inevitable," he said.

Nine current and former members of Fletcher's administration were indicted, most on misdemeanor violations of state hiring laws, before Fletcher issued his pardon on Aug. 29. The pardon was worded to provide blanket coverage for anyone else who might be indicted.

The grand jury, which began investigating the Fletcher administration in June 2005, returned 29 indictments, one of which charged Fletcher with criminal conspiracy, official misconduct and political discrimination.

All the indictments have been dismissed, except one against a former transportation official charged with perjury for allegedly lying to the grand jury.

Fletcher's charges were dropped after an agreement with prosecutors, even though the grand jury concluded that he had approved a "widespread and coordinated plan" to skirt state hiring laws so political supporters could be rewarded with jobs.