Report Says Fletcher Signed Off On Plan To Violate Hiring Laws

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A special grand jury said in a report released Wednesday that Gov. Ernie Fletcher signed off on a "widespread and coordinated plan" to violate state hiring laws.

The Franklin County special grand jury said the plan implemented by Fletcher's administration was designed at the "highest level of state government" and those who interfered were "fired or moved."

"Candidates for merit jobs and promotions, merit employees and their families were damaged when these merit laws were broken," the report said. "People were wrongfully fired and demoted. Others were transferred to distant locations to pressure them to retire or resign.

People less qualified were hired simply because they supported Governor Fletcher financially or politically." The grand jury returned 29 indictments in the case, including one that charged Fletcher with criminal conspiracy, official misconduct and political discrimination. The charges against Fletcher later were dismissed in an agreement with prosecutors.

Franklin County Circuit Judge Reed Rhorer released the report Wednesday following a closed-door meeting with Fletcher's attorneys and prosecutors.

Rhorer barred reporters from entering the building where the meetings were taking place, said Daniel Dickert, staff attorney for Rhorer. Rhorer also has prohibited attorneys from discussing the document until at least after the Wednesday afternoon hearing, Dickert said.

"It's a practical matter of we're about to have hearings here," Dickert told reporters outside the building. "We've got a whole lot of people coming in and we just don't have the space right now."

The grand jury completed its report and presented it to Rhorer last month. Rhorer said he would follow a court order to let the governor's lawyers see the report in private and allow them to make any objections before releasing it to the public.

The attorney general's office filed a motion Wednesday morning asking Rhorer to release the grand jury report. Deputy Attorney General Pierce Whites argued that Fletcher was prohibited from making any objections to the grand jury's report, based on the agreement he made to have the charges dropped.

"Plainly the agreed order expressly permits the public filing of the grand jury's final report," Whites wrote. "The governor should not now be permitted to come before this court and deny the public's right to know the findings of the special grand jury."

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)