August 24, 2006

Ky. governor admits faults and charges dropped

By Michael Lindenberger

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (Reuters) - A judge in Kentucky
dismissed corruption charges against Republican Gov. Ernie
Fletcher on Thursday after he acknowledged failing to respect
the state's merit hiring laws in a plea agreement.

Fletcher, the first Republican to lead the state in 30
years, was indicted in May on three misdemeanor charges related
to the illegal hiring of Republicans for state jobs that are
protected by law from political interference.

"We've said all along that some of the things that went on
shouldn't have," Fletcher said.

In dismissing the charges, Special Judge David Melcher
wrote that Fletcher had accepted responsibility for his
administration's failure to respect the state's hiring laws.

"The governor acknowledges that the evidence strongly
indicates wrongdoing by his administration with regard to
personnel actions within the merit system," Melcher wrote.

"Further, the governor hereby states that these actions
were inappropriate and that he regrets their occurrence, and
accepts responsibility for them as head of the executive branch
of government," he wrote.

"This sincere expression of ultimate responsibility,
however, is not an admission in any way of any criminal
wrongdoing by the governor, nor directly on behalf of the

Melcher had previously ruled Fletcher was immune from the
charges while in office, but could face a trial if he were
impeached or after his term ended. Fletcher could have faced a
year in jail.

Attorney General Greg Stumbo, a Republican who pursued the
case against Fletcher and 15 members of the his staff, said he
agreed to the plea agreement in part because the governor could
have avoided trial by pardoning himself when he left office.

Fletcher had issued a blanket pardon to staff members
caught up in the scandal, exempting himself, and derided the
indictments as politically motivated.

As part of the plea agreement, four of five members of the
state's personnel board appointed by Fletcher resigned, and
Stumbo will supply a list of nominees to replace them.

The deal still leaves Fletcher with an uncertain political
future. Several leading Republicans have called on him to drop
plans to seek reelection next year.

Fletcher remained determined to run. He said his critics
could either challenge him or get in line behind him.