Politics & Government

Bar to keep quiet on hiring case

FRANKFORT - The Kentucky Bar Association cannot confirm or deny if it is investigating the conduct of lawyers involved in a special grand jury's investigation of hiring practices in the administration of Gov. Ernie Fletcher, KBA's director said yesterday.

"We have to be confidential under Kentucky Supreme Court rules," said Bruce Davis, executive director of the association, which has 15,222 members.

The bar association, which oversees the conduct of lawyers, requested evidence gathered by the grand jury, Deputy Attorney General Pierce Whites said Wednesday in a Franklin Circuit Court hearing.

At the hearing, Judge Reed Rhorer authorized release of the evidence to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the state Personnel Board, the Executive Branch Ethics Commission and the bar association.

Whites declined to tell reporters why the bar association's office of bar counsel requested the evidence. He said all three agencies asked for the confidential materials.

The association's bar counsel, Davis said, is a paid staff of eight that investigates complaints and allegations about lawyers. It can initiate an investigation on its own with approval of the inquiry commission.

The inquiry commission is a nine-member, voluntary panel that meets in groups of three. Each group is made up of two lawyers and one non-lawyer. It can determine whether a lawyer should be charged with violating professional conduct rules.

Members of the inquiry commission are appointed by the Supreme Court.

A trial commissioner can be appointed to conduct a hearing of a lawyer who has been charged with any violation, Davis said. The KBA has a pool of 75 to 80 lawyers from which to select a trial commissioner.

The governing board can recommend to the Supreme Court to uphold findings of the trial commissioner or make other findings. The Supreme Court has final say and can make its ruling public.

The grand jury, assisted by Attorney General Greg Stumbo's office, indicted 15 people, including Fletcher, and returned 14 indictments that remain sealed. The three criminal misdemeanor charges against Fletcher were dismissed after a settlement last August. In August 2005, Fletcher pardoned people indicted by the grand jury, excluding himself.