Federal indictment encouraging step

Keith Hall
Keith Hall

Reporting by the Herald-Leader's John Cheves led to criminal charges against Rep. Keith Hall for allegedly bribing a state mining inspector. Cheves' reporting began with complaints about trees and jagged boulders raining down from Hall's coal operations into homes and yards in Pike County.

In other words, the public was very much endangered by the corruption alleged in indictments issued by a federal grand jury last week.

Kudos to U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey for pursuing this prosecution.

As Harvey said, the alleged conduct "undermines the public's faith in our institutions of government and makes the job harder for the vast majority of public officials who honorably discharge their duties."

Hall, who was defeated in last spring's Democratic primary and thus will soon be leaving the legislature, is charged with secretly paying $46,343 to a state mine inspector in 2009 and 2010 to ignore repeated violations at Hall's Pike County surface coal mines.

Apart from the embarrassment to House Democrats, who allowed Hall to serve as vice chairman of the committee that oversees the state agency he was allegedly bribing, the indictments also raise questions about the executive branch.

An inspector general in the Cabinet for Energy and Environment investigated after Hall himself complained to state officials that the mining inspector, Kelly Shortridge, was demanding money in exchange for protection against citations even though Hall said he already had paid him a "small fortune."

The inspector general filed his report in March 2013 but Shortridge remained a state employee until February, when he resigned.

The IG's findings should have sparked a stronger response — if, indeed, there was any response at all — from state officials who are responsible for protecting the public and environment.

The question of why allegations of bribery and extortion involving a state lawmaker and state mining inspection elicited such a tepid response from the administration also demands deeper investigation.