Friday, August 19, 2005

Do Kentucky Repubs have "a lick of sense"?

Judge slams cabinet for withholding from investigators

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) -- The judge presiding over the special grand jury investigation of Fletcher administration personnel practices blistered attorneys for the Transportation Cabinet for withholding subpoenaed e-mails that anyone "with a lick of sense" would know were important.

Franklin County Circuit Judge William Graham on Thursday said he would give the attorney general's office, which has been conducting the investigation, virtually unfettered access to all Transportation Cabinet documents. Previously, the cabinet had hired lawyers to review the materials before they were turned over to the investigation.

Graham said he has been cautious and indulgent of state agencies as they have examined stacks of documents and computer records to determine if they were responsive to subpoenas from the grand jury.

But the judge's patience apparently wore out when a newspaper published e-mail exchanges between Transportation Cabinet officials that Deputy Attorney General Pierce Whites said had not been included in documents subpoenaed by the grand jury.

M. Stephen Pitt, one of what Graham called the "host of lawyers" hired by the state to review subpoenaed records, said the exchange between Dick Murgatroyd and Otis Reed was not responsive to the subpoena. The subpoena asked for records of numerous individuals and hiring, including Murgatroyd, who was then deputy secretary of the cabinet, and Reed, who was then the agency's chief personnel officer.

"I don't think anyone with a lick of sense can read those e-mails, regardless of whether or not they had legal training, and not understand that those e-mails are pertinent to the investigation," Graham said.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher's office declined comment and referred questions about the judge's decision to Pitt and the Transportation Cabinet. A cabinet spokesman referred questions to Pitt.

Graham was clearly exasperated at a hearing called at the attorney general's request that the Transportation Cabinet be held in contempt.

"I just don't see any excuse for these not being provided," Graham said. "These are precisely the kinds of e-mails the attorney general, the grand jury, would be interested in."

In the e-mails on Feb. 26, Reed wrote Murgatroyd during a discussion of state hiring: "I don't know if they don't know the law or if they just don't care and that is the scary part."

Murgatroyd replied: "They believe they are above it."

The exchange was reported by The Courier-Journal newspaper after it obtained the records through a request under the Kentucky Open Records Act.

Pitt said there was nothing in the e-mail to reflect the exchange related to hiring, though Whites said the lawyers left out much of the context.

"I no longer can say that I have confidence in the lawyers to go through these fairly and squarely and ferret out the information," Graham said.

Graham said the lawyers were hired by the cabinet to find materials summoned by the grand jury. "You all represent the Transportation Cabinet. You don't represent individuals faced with the possibility of criminal charges being lodged," Graham said.

Pitt said after the ruling he did not feel like Graham was being critical of the work of the dozens of lawyers hired by the cabinet to review the items that had been subpoenaed. "We did attempt to do it in good faith," he said.

But he added that his own opinion of the investigation had hardened since it began in late May.

"I do think it's bogus," Pitt said. "I think it is a political, very political, investigation."

Pitt said that perspective did not cloud his work in reviewing items sought under subpoena.

Whites declined to say if he believes the documents were intentionally withheld, or whether other agencies are taking a similarly loose view of documents that should be provided.

"This was a particularly egregious case," Whites said. "I certainly hope no other agencies or cabinets have committed similar acts."

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