A judge ruled Thursday that the estranged wife of former state Rep. W. Keith Hall cannot testify about their marital conversations at his bribery trial, set to begin June 22 in Pikeville.
Although Stephanie Hall was willing to waive her spousal privilege to testify against her husband, Keith Hall was not willing to waive his. If the case goes to trial, the jury will not hear Stephanie Hall testify about a 2010 conversation in which she said Keith Hall — who owns coal mines — told her he was paying money to the state mine inspector assigned to his operations, U.S. District Chief Judge Karen Caldwell said.
"There is a presumption of confidential communications" for spouses, Caldwell said at a motion hearing in Lexington. "She knew it was given to her in confidence, and she knew what the score was."
Prosecutors say Hall paid about $46,000 in bribes to Kelly Shortridge, then a mine inspector for the Kentucky Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement. In exchange for the payments, Shortridge has said, he agreed to ignore safety and environmental violations at Hall's surface mines in Pike County.
If convicted, Hall could face up to 10 years in prison. Shortridge pleaded guilty in March to his role in the case and is expected to testify against Hall.
On the witness stand Thursday, Stephanie Hall said she traveled to Frankfort with her husband during the 2010 legislative session. Keith Hall spent 14 years as a Democratic state representative from Phelps until he was defeated in last year's primary.
One day during the 2010 session, she said, "I could feel he was a little agitated. He kept looking at his phone."
"He said Kelly was calling him and agitating him to death. He said he was supposed to pay Kelly $20,000, and he already paid him $10,000, and Kelly was hounding him for the other 10."
Stephanie Hall said she separated from her husband two years later. He subsequently filed for divorce and moved in with another woman, she said.
Although Stephanie Hall cannot testify about their 2010 conversation, Caldwell seemed willing to allow prosecutors to submit as evidence a March 31, 2009, email that Stephanie Hall found in their companies' files. In the email, Shortridge sent Keith Hall a list of account numbers at Community Trust Bank and various sums attributed to each account.
Prosecutors also got Stephanie Hall to confirm her signature authorizing a $25,000 check on April 5, 2010, from S&K Properties — one of her husband's coal companies, which she helped oversee — to a firm called DKJ Consulting. Prosecutors say DKJ was a shell corporation that Shortridge created in his wife's name to receive bribe payments.
Stephanie Hall said her husband didn't tell her why he wanted DKJ to get $25,000, but he attributed it to "consulting" in their financial ledger, and to the best of her knowledge, nobody from a company called DKJ ever provided consulting for the Halls' businesses. Keith Hall used "consulting" in the financial ledger to describe "things under the table," she said.