Politician admits fault, skates on corruption charge

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 governor.”

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.

© Reuters 2006