Vote-buying trial set for March 10

Ralph B. Davis rdavis@civitasmedia.com

January 9, 2014

PIKEVILLE — Former Martin Mayor Ruth Thomasine Robinson and five others are scheduled to go to trial on March 10 for conspiracy and vote-buying charges, after they each entered not guilty pleas Thursday in U.S. District Court.

Robinson, her husband, James “Red” Robinson; her step-son, James Steven Robinson; Ginger Michelle Halbert; Johnny T. Moore; and Henry A. Mulins were each accused in an indictment last month with a single count of civil rights conspiracy. Ruth Thomasine Robinson, James “Red” Robinson, Moore and Mullins also each face a single count of vote-buying, while James Steven Robinson is charged with three counts of vote-buying. Halbert is the only defendant not charged with vote-buying.

The defendants stood before U.S. Magistrate Judge Edward B. Atkins with their attorneys Thursday morning for arraignment. Each waived formal arraignment and entered not guilty pleas.

According to the indictment against them, the six allegedly conspired to induce public housing residents and tenants renting homes owned by the former mayor to vote for her by absentee ballot, using an already completed ballot, during her 2010 re-election bid. Some of the voters were allegedly told they could get better apartments if they voted for Ruth Thomasine Robinson, while others were allegedly told they would face eviction if they did not. And the indictment alleges the defendants backed up those threats.

“It was part of the conspiracy that one or more of the defendants caused residents and tenants to be evicted because they believed they had not voted, or had voted incorrectly,” the indictment reads. “It was part of the conspiracy that Ruth Thomasine Robinson directed Martine police officers to serve eviction notices on tenants.

“It was part of the conspiracy that on at least one occasion, two of the defendants harassed a qualified voters about voting to the point that the voter would not come out of his apartment to vote because he was in fear of physical harm.”

Former Mayor Robinson lost that election by three votes.

In the event of conviction, the conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 in fines. The vote-buying charges each carry maximum penalties of five years in prison and a $250,000 in fines.

Following the conclusion of the arraignment, James Steven Robinson was held back by the court, to address a potential probation violation charge. James Steven Robinson pleaded guilty in 2010 to lying to officials for the purposes of obtaining unemployment benefits. He served no jail time, but as a condition of his probation, he was ordered to have no further violations of law.

Atkins ruled Thursday that a decision of whether James Steven Robinson violated his probation would be delayed, pending the outcome of his trial on the vote-buying conspiracy.

All of the defendants remain free while their case is pending.