Politics & Government

Judge orders deposition of governor be put on hold

FRANKFORT - A federal judge has temporarily halted efforts to depose Gov. Ernie Fletcher regarding any role he might have played in the firing of a former Transportation Cabinet official.

U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell ordered yesterday that a deposition of Fletcher scheduled for Feb. 20 be put on hold until she can rule on a motion filed Friday to dismiss the governor from a lawsuit brought by former state worker Mike Duncan against the Transportation Cabinet.

Duncan was one of several state employees named on a 2005 "hit list" of workers targeted for personnel action. The list surfaced during a grand jury's investigation of hiring practices in the Fletcher administration.

The grand jury indicted Fletcher last year, but those charges were later dismissed as part of a settlement agreement between Fletcher and Attorney General Greg Stumbo.

Fletcher, who is seeking re-election, said yesterday's ruling was "appropriate."

"We filed that motion to dismiss based on the law," he said. "Frankly, it's not a lawful suit. It's a frivolous suit."

The suit alleges Duncan, a former deputy inspector general, was wrongfully fired in 2005 because he supported Democrat Ben Chandler in the 2003 governor's race.

Duncan's attorney, Thomas Clay of Louisville, was not available for comment.

Clay had unsuccessfully sought the testimony of Fletcher when the state Personnel Board heard Duncan's case. During that hearing, Transportation Cabinet Secretary Bill Nighbert testified that Fletcher played no role in Duncan's firing.

Nighbert's testimony contradicted what Dan Druen, the cabinet's former commissioner of administrative services, previously told investigators with the attorney general's office. Druen has said publicly that his actions regarding the hit list came at the direction of Fletcher.

Druen, who now lives in Virginia, has been ordered to return to Kentucky to testify in a perjury case against former Transportation Cabinet official Sam Beverage, who is accused of lying to the grand jury that was investigating state hiring practices. That trial is expected to be held later this year.