Federal Bid-Rigging Trial Being Moved To Covington

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves on Monday
ordered a federal bid-rigging trial moved from Frankfort to
Covington, citing pre-trial publicity surrounding the high-profile
case.

Saying the move serves the interests of justice, Reeves wrote in
his order that he hopes to seat a jury "untainted by prejudicial
media reports" that will hear the charges against former
Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert, road contractor Leonard
Lawson and Lawson aide Brian Billings.

The three are accused of conspiring to steer state highway
contruction contacts to Lawson's companies. All have pleaded not
guilty ahead of the trial, which is scheduled to begin April 28.

"Because of numerous factors, including Lawson's and Nighbert's
prominence in their respect fields, the case has received - and
continues to receive - a great deal of attention from the media,"
Reeves said in a four-page order.

Defense attorney Larry Mackey asked for the change of trial
venue, submitting some 500 pages of newspaper, TV and Internet
reports on the case to bolster his request.

Federal prosecutor Ken Taylor didn't object to the trial being
moved.

Reeves said judges have reason to move trials when the
atmosphere surrounding them has become "circus-like" or has been
"utterly corrupted" by press coverage. "And, although the court
is unprepared to conclude that pretrial publicity in this case
constitutes press corruption or has created a circus-like
atmosphere, it has certainly been extensive," he wrote.

The case involves what prosecutors say were bribes paid to
Nighbert and another Kentucky Transportation official to obtain
official state cost estimates for about $130 million worth of
construction projects. Prosecutors contend those estimates gave
Lawson and his companies an advantage in winning construction
contracts, which are typically awarded to the lowest bidder.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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