Politics & Government

Judge meets with grand jurors

FRANKFORT -- A judge met privately yesterday morning with a special grand jury that is investigating allegations that Gov. Ernie Fletcher's administration illegally rewarded political supporters with state jobs.

Franklin County Chief Circuit Judge Reed Rhorer said he gave instructions to jurors based on last week's ruling by the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

In that ruling, Senior Court of Appeals Judge William L. Knopf, writing for a three-judge panel, said the grand jury must be told that it has no authority to issue indictments against people who have been pardoned by Fletcher.

The appeals court also ruled the grand jury must be told that, though it can issue a general report, it must not name or specifically identify anyone who has been pardoned or who hasn't been indicted. The report should be filed under seal, the court also ruled.

Although the ruling limits the scope of the grand jury, it did not shut it down.

"The important work of the grand jury will continue," said Vicki Glass, a spokeswoman for the attorney general.

Rhorer refused to elaborate on his private meeting with the grand jury, but later issued a single page order that said he also answered some questions raised by grand jurors.

For the past year, the grand jury has been investigating whether Fletcher's administration rewarded political supporters with state jobs after he took office in 2003. The probe began in June 2005 after a Transportation Cabinet personnel officer turned over hundreds of internal administration e-mails and memos relating to hiring decisions.

The grand jury has issued 29 indictments, including one that charges Fletcher with conspiracy, official misconduct and political discrimination, all misdemeanors. Fletcher has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Fletcher announced last August that he had issued a blanket pardon for anyone charged in the grand jury probe. However, he didn't extend the pardon to himself.

The grand jury's term is set to expire Aug. 17, prosecutor Scott Crawford-Sutherland said. It was uncertain whether the term would be extended, he said. The panel was scheduled to meet four times during that week, he said.