Governor Pardons All But Himself In Personnel Investigation - News, Weather & Sports

Governor Pardons All But Himself In Personnel Investigation

(FRANKFORT, Ky.) -- Gov. Ernie Fletcher on Monday granted blanket pardons to everyone who has been or might be charged in the investigation of personnel practices in his administration but said he would not pardon himself.

Fletcher said those who might have violated the law, which he admitted happened and blamed largely on "overeager young managers," would face the penalties that could be imposed by two administrative agencies that are also investigating.

Fletcher repeated his accusation that Democratic Attorney General Greg Stumbo has been carrying out a political vendetta. He also compared most of the charges that have been brought to minor violations of fishing laws.

The paperwork pardons the nine people already charged as well as anyone else who might come to the attention of the special grand jury for violation of any section of the penal code, not just the personnel laws. The pardon extends to crimes that may have been committed up to Monday.

Fletcher will appear Tuesday before the special grand jury that has charged nine current and former members of his administration with misdemeanor crimes. But he said he would not answer questions.

Stumbo should drop his investigation and get on with more important business, Fletcher said.

Prosecutor Scott Crawford-Sutherland said earlier in the day the work of the grand jury would continue whether pardons were issued or not.

Stumbo said in a written statement that Fletcher has "slammed the door on the public's right to know what wrongs his administration has committed."

Fletcher made his remarks in a Capitol Rotunda crowded with dozens of his political appointees, who frequently interrupted him with cheers and applause. A spokesman said state government paid $1,200 for satellite time to beam the remarks around the state.

The subpoena for Fletcher includes a demand that he turn over virtually any record that might relate to Merit System personnel matters going back to the first day of his administration, Dec. 9, 2003.

The subpoena demands production of correspondence, memos, notes, faxes, e-mails and phone logs that Fletcher might have. Fletcher's calendar is also included in the subpoena.

The special grand jury was impaneled on June 6. In addition to the misdemeanor charges of personnel violations, one person has been indicted for 22 felony counts of evidence or witness tampering.

Some of those charged are senior members of the administration, including deputy chief of staff Richard Murgatroyd and acting Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert. Fletcher said the senior managers provided "inadequate oversight" of younger people.

Fletcher said he has "never knowingly violated any laws" while governor.

"What we're talking about in this investigation is people recommending friends and relations who may have worked in a political campaign," Fletcher said.

The pardon carries huge political implications for Fletcher, who campaigned just two years ago on pledges to "clean up the mess" in Frankfort and uphold the sanctity of the state hiring laws.

Instead, the lead prosecutor has said Fletcher's administration created a "corrupt political machine" designed to hire and promote Republicans and other Fletcher supporters based on their loyalty instead of their qualifications.

"I'd characterize it this way: He ran on a platform of believe me and I will run state government differently," said former Democratic Gov. Julian Carroll, who is now a state senator from Frankfort. "He turns out to be the biggest deceiver that we've had in the governor's office in my lifetime. Rather than a believer, he's truly a deceiver."

House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, echoed the comments about Fletcher's hypocrisy.

"When he was running for governor, Ernie Fletcher promised to protect the Merit System," Richards said in a statement. "He also promised to clean up the mess in Frankfort. Tonight he gave us the final proof that he has done neither."

Fletcher said he would leave it to the voters to decide his political fate.

Joe Gershtenson, director of the Center for Kentucky History and Politics at Eastern Kentucky University, said Fletcher's pardons could cut both ways with voters.

"I still think, as I have all along, that pardons are risky, absolutely," Gershtenson said. "They inevitably create at least some perception that there's some guilt. Why pardon if somebody isn't going to ultimately get convicted? There's some danger of that."

On the other hand, if the hubbub dies down before 2007, Gershtenson said it is too early to call an end to Fletcher's electoral chances.

Gershtenson said Fletcher avoided an even larger problem that might have come if he pardoned himself.

Rep. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, said pardons are grounds for the General Assembly to consider impeachment of Fletcher.

"He is showing a broad disrespect for the criminal justice system that every other citizen in the commonwealth must live with," Stein said.

"Certainly the General Assembly should hold hearings on whether or not his conduct in the granting of these pardons is conduct that rises to the level of consideration for impeachment," Carroll said.

The Personnel Board and the Executive Branch Ethics Commission are investigating administration personnel actions but can only impose fines or sanctions on state employment. Ironically, if either agency finds evidence of criminal wrongdoing, it ordinarily forwards it to the attorney general's office for prosecution.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, has been critical of how Fletcher has responded to the investigation but said the pardons should put the matter to rest.

Senate Minority Leader Ed Worley of Richmond said he didn't necessarily agree with the pardons and said it was time to move on. "But there's nothing to be done about it except to continue a divisive political war," Worley said.

Republican Party Chairman Darrell Brock, who was among those indicted for actions taken while he was commissioner of the Department of Local Government, said Monday evening he had done nothing wrong.

Mike Duncan, the Inez banker who is a heavyweight on the Republican National Committee, said Fletcher should be commended for the pardons. "I think the governor made the right decision because we need to move the state forward," Duncan said.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)