August 11, 2006

Kentucky governor spared trial, for now

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A Kentucky judge on Friday ruled
Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher enjoys immunity while in office
and cannot be tried on charges of hiring state workers based on
political clout.

But Special Judge David Melcher said Fletcher, the first
Republican to lead Kentucky in three decades, could be tried as
soon as his term is up in 2007, or if he is impeached by the

Fletcher, who has said he plans to run for re-election next
year, has pleaded not guilty and asked for a dismissal of three
misdemeanor counts against him -- official misconduct,
conspiracy, and violating a prohibition against political

The most serious charge, official misconduct, carries a
possible one-year prison sentence and removal from office.

The governor last year granted a blanket pardon to anyone
in his administration, except himself, who might be charged in
the case. Fourteen others have been indicted by a grand jury
and the pardon was upheld by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Fletcher is charged with replacing some state employees
with Republican loyalists in jobs that by state law are
supposed to be free of political interference.

Fletcher has said the case amounted to a politically
motivated attack by Democratic Attorney General Greg Stumbo.

In a statement, Stumbo said he was pleased the governor's
motion to dismiss the case was denied. The ruling voided a
scheduled November 8 trial date.

"The court's ruling affirms the principle that no person is
above the law," Stumbo said.

Some 32,000 state workers are protected from any political
meddling, while 4,000 workers do not have that protection.