FBI agent: Clay judge coached witness

LONDON — A Clay County circuit judge charged with racketeering was also allegedly involved in coaching a witness to lie in his courtroom and in rigging the judgment in a lawsuit he presided over, a federal agent testified Monday.

FBI agent Timothy Briggs said that there are more than 100 witnesses in the case against R. Cletus Maricle, who has been charged in a vote-buying scheme, and that sources recorded conversations with Maricle during the investigation.

Although Maricle has not been charged with jury-tampering or other crimes Briggs mentioned in his testimony, they were presented as part of an argument that Maricle should be kept in jail. If he is released, there is a risk he would try to obstruct justice, perhaps by intimidating witnesses, according to the prosecutor.

"This is someone who has no regard for the rule of law," the prosecutor, Stephen C. Smith, said of Maricle.

In other testimony, Briggs said Maricle was so paranoid about being the subject of a vote-buying investigation that he thought a doorstop in his chambers was a listening device and frisked people to see whether they were wearing recorders, the agent testified.

Maricle, 65, allegedly helped run a vote-buying operation in Clay County that corrupted elections in 2002, 2004 and 2006.

The former circuit judge is also charged with conspiracy and trying to influence a witness to lie to a federal grand jury.

Maricle was Clay County's sole circuit judge from 1991 until July 2007, when he retired but remained a senior judge.

Smith has requested that Maricle be kept in jail until his trial, which is scheduled for May 19. Briggs testified at a hearing on the motion in federal court in London.

Before he was indicted March 3, Maricle had compiled a list of people he thought were providing information to a federal grand jury, Briggs said.

Maricle's attorney, Henry Hughes, said Maricle is presumed innocent and that he hasn't hurt anyone and won't hurt anyone.

Hughes urged U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Wier to release Maricle under strict conditions, perhaps including home incarceration.

Wier said he would rule soon on whether Maricle will be released.

Until then, Maricle, who wore leg chains during the hearing, will remain in jail.

Those charged with Maricle are Clay County school Superintendent Doug Adams; county clerk Freddy W. Thompson; Charles Wayne Jones, the county's Democratic election commissioner; William E. Stivers, the county Democratic Party chair; and Paul E. Bishop and William and Debra Morris, who allegedly helped buy votes.

All have pleaded not guilty.

One source told the FBI that Maricle was involved in trying to script testimony by a witness in an assault case in his court in 2005, Briggs said.

The source's brother had pleaded guilty. A person charged with the brother in the case claimed to have information about Maricle's daughter, Briggs said — information the judge presumably didn't want disclosed.

Briggs said Maricle told the source what to tell his brother to say in court. The goal was to get the co-defendant convicted — an "act of retribution," Smith called it.

The deal was that the brother, if he stuck to the script, would get no jail time, Briggs testified.

He didn't, however. Maricle sentenced him to five years, but told the source cooperating with police that, if he or she would help with vote fraud, the brother could get out of prison, Briggs testified.

Briggs said he thought Gary Gregory, the commonwealth's attorney for Clay County, was present during the attempt to script the brother's testimony. Gregory was not available for comment after Monday's hearing.

Also at Monday's hearing, a convicted drug dealer from Clay County, Kenneth Day, testified that he was present when Maricle tried to rig a verdict in a lawsuit.

The lawsuit involved a car wreck that killed Day's sister-in-law. he said.

Day said he went with Maricle, the judge on the case, attorney Scott Madden and onetime circuit clerk Larry Joe Roberts to see a man whose wife or ex-wife was on the jury.

With Maricle present, the man telephoned the jury member and relayed a directive not to emerge from the jury room with anything less than a $1 million judgment against the insurance company being sued, Day testified.

The jury ruled the company should pay between $3 million and $4 million, said Day.

Madden could not be reached for comment. Roberts is dead.

Day was a major cocaine and marijuana dealer who was sentenced to 18 years in prison at an earlier stage of the corruption investigation in Clay County.

Former Clay County Clerk Jennings White pleaded guilty in that case to laundering drug money for Day.

Briggs also testified that, during the vote-buying investigation, a source told him Maricle was trying to find out where officers on the task force pursuing the case lived.