Special Reports

Lawyer hired by KACo is subject of ethics inquiry

Robert "Bobby" Russell, the lawyer hired by the Kentucky Association of Counties to do a management review of the organization, is the subject of a state ethics inquiry stemming from his work at the state Transportation Cabinet.

The Executive Branch Ethics Commission issued a subpoena in May for documents related to "every grievance filed against" Russell since December 2007, when he became the state Transportation Cabinet's general counsel.

Russell didn't return calls requesting comment Thursday.

And John Steffen, the ethics commission's executive director, declined to comment.

Russell left that post on April 15 and now works as an attorney with Coy, Gilbert & Gilbert, a Richmond firm.

Russell, who is also a former Transportation Cabinet inspector general and Madison County Attorney, just began a review of KACo's chain of command, personnel, board oversight and policies in the wake of controversy over the organization's expenses and board oversight.

KACo's top five managers spent $600,000 in meals, travel, entertainment and other expenses in two years. In addition, the organization and its liability insurance has paid at least $2.2 million in legal costs related to the firing of seven former KACo employees.

KACo President J. Michael Foster, the Christian County Attorney, told legislators at an Interim Joint Committee on Local Government meeting Wednesday that Russell's management review would be critical in helping determine further reforms and personnel decisions at KACo.

"We want the benefit of the comprehensive review in order to make the best decision possible," Foster said.

Foster said he didn't know about the ethics inquiry.

He said he hired Russell, who will be paid $225 an hour, on the recommendation of several officials and didn't expect that an inquiry into hiring procedures would affect the management review.

"I would have to say that I have complete confidence in his ability," Foster said.

The subpoena, obtained by the Herald-Leader through an Open Records request, also asks for documents related to Russell's hiring of former Circuit Judge William W. Trude, Jr. in the cabinet's legal office, as well as the promotion of staff attorney Jesse Rowe.

The Louisville Courier-Journal first reported in April that those personnel moves were voided because Russell and the personnel panel assigned to screen applicants didn't follow the proper procedures.

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