June 9, 2006

Kentucky governor pleads not guilty to charges

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher pleaded
not guilty on Friday to charges that he was involved in an
illegal scheme to hire political allies for merit-based state

Fletcher, the first Republican to lead Kentucky in more
than three decades, entered the pleas through a lawyer in
Franklin County District Court in Frankfort, court officials

He was indicted last month by a grand jury on three
misdemeanor counts -- official misconduct, which carries a
possible one-year sentence, and conspiracy and violating a
prohibition against political discrimination, which each carry
six-month penalties.

While two of the three charges also stipulate removal from
state office upon conviction, most legal observers say that
would not likely apply to the governor, whose removal is
subject to impeachment proceedings spelled out in the state

Friday's arraignment follows a year of controversy stemming
from the allegations that Republicans violated state law by
ignoring merit and hiring political supporters for civil
service jobs.

At a state party meeting in Louisville last weekend, the
physician and former U.S. congressman said he still planned to
be a candidate for re-election in 2007.

After more than a dozen indictments of current and former
members of his administration, Fletcher announced a blanket
pardon last year that ended investigation into the alleged

In announcing the pardon, which was upheld in a decision by
the Kentucky Supreme Court last month, Fletcher specifically
exempted himself, thus opening the way for his own indictment.