Drug allegations heat up Harlan race

The Harlan County judge-executive's race heated up this week as allegations of drug trafficking by the incumbent became public.

Last week, Circuit Judge Russell Alred ordered a special grand jury to be impaneled, "charged to investigate alleged illegal drug trafficking" by Judge-Executive Joe Grieshop from the judge-executive's office. The call for a special grand jury was "a result of an ongoing investigation by the Harlan County Sheriff's Department," Alred's order said.

Grieshop said he is innocent.

"There is no evidence of wrongdoing," he said. "I did nothing wrong. This event is purely political."

Grieshop, who has been in office since 1999, called the investigation a smear campaign by people connected with his political opponents.

The circuit clerk summoned 50 jurors, but Commonwealth's Attorney Henry Johnson said he expects to have to go outside the county to find an impartial jury. Johnson said he doesn't expect a decision by a grand jury before the May 18 primary..

"I hate election years, because people will use the criminal justice system to try to smear their opponents," he said.

The investigation by the sheriff's office lasted a couple of months, and the court moved as soon as it had the evidence, Johnson said. The nature of the evidence wasn't detailed in the judge's order. Sheriff Marvin Lipfird did not return phone calls from the Herald-Leader.

Johnson said he wouldn't be opposed to a special prosecutor and a special judge if an indictment is returned.

Judge Alred's second cousin Denny Pace is running against Grieshop in the primary.

"I'm focusing on my race, and let the judicial system operate. That's the only comment I'll make at this time," Pace said.

Alred said he consulted with the commonwealth's attorney after being presented with "significant evidence that warranted a grand jury."

"I believe the people need to make a decision in this, not a judge, not a police officer," Alred said.

He said he didn't see the sheriff's office investigating a fiscal court officer, who funds the sheriff's office, as a conflict of interest.

Alred said any accusations that politics are behind the evidence or his decision to impanel the grand jury are "completely ridiculous."