Judge allows grand jury documents released to federal prosecutors
by JOE BIESK
FRANKFORT -- A Franklin County judge authorized the release of evidence collected during the investigation of Gov. Ernie Fletcher's administration's hiring practices to federal prosecutors and three other investigatory agencies.
Circuit Judge Reed Rhorer on Wednesday allowed state prosecutors to hand over confidential grand jury evidence from the state hiring probe to the Kentucky Personnel Board, the Executive Branch Ethics Commission and the Kentucky Bar Association. Deputy Attorney General Pierce Whites said the three state agencies requested evidence from the lengthy Fletcher administration probe.
"It's a very good outcome, I think, for law enforcement and for the people of Kentucky," Whites said of Rhorer's decision.
The attorney general's office began investigating allegations in May 2005 that Fletcher's administration illegally rewarded political supporters with state jobs after he took office. Fletcher, who maintained the investigation was politically motivated, gave a blanket pardon in August 2005 to anyone except himself who could be charged in the probe.
A Franklin County special grand jury indicted Fletcher on misdemeanor charges that were eventually dropped in a deal with prosecutors.
The grand jury, in a report released in November, said it found that Fletcher had approved a "widespread and coordinated plan" to skirt state hiring laws.
Stumbo said in August 2005, following the pardons, that his office would turn over any evidence of federal law violations to the FBI. To date, the attorney general's office had not given any evidence in the matter to federal prosecutors, Whites said.
There were "hundreds of thousands" of pages of documents collected during the probe, and each of the agencies would have total access to them including a searchable database, Whites said.
The ethics panel would investigate whether Fletcher administration officials broke any ethics rules, while the personnel board would judge whether candidates for state jobs were handled fairly, Whites said. He declined, however, to say what interest the bar association had in the matter other than to "look at the ethics applicable to members of the bar."
A call to the Kentucky Bar Association's counsel was not returned.
Whites also declined to say whether he thought any federal laws had been broken.
A provision in Rhorer's order Wednesday, however, required they remain confidential.
Paul Harnice, a defense attorney representing the state Transportation Cabinet, said the proceedings of the special grand jury that conducted the investigation should remain confidential.
"All we're saying is that that concept, that tenet of law, should remain in place," Harnice said.
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