FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Attorney General Greg Stumbo "would have loved" to put Gov. Ernie Fletcher on trial for his alleged role in the state personnel scandal, but feared the Republican governor would have pardoned himself first.
Prosecutors were left with few options after a judge ruled Fletcher could not be tried while in office, Stumbo said Wednesday, a day after a grand jury's report on the investigation was released to the public.
After that ruling, prosecutors felt their best move was to work out a deal that offered protections to state employees.
"I would have loved for the governor to have stood trial," Stumbo told reporters at the Capitol.
The grand jury's report found Fletcher OK'd a "widespread and coordinated plan" designed to maneuver around state hiring laws. In some cases, existing state employees were either fired or reassigned so Fletcher's supporters, some with fewer qualifications, could be installed - at times with higher salaries, the report found.
A Fletcher spokeswoman said she had no comment about Stumbo's remarks. Fletcher was expected to return from a Japan trip this weekend, she said.
On Wednesday, Fletcher released a statement saying the grand jury's report contained "the same old stuff."
"Given that the prosecutors have dropped all charges, the document reads more like a savvy litany of political sound bites rather than a legal document of purported evidence," Fletcher said in the statement. "Under normal circumstances, I would vigorously object. However, it is best for the commonwealth that this chapter is concluded."
Kentucky's Merit System was created in 1960 and designed to insulate state civil service employees from politics. State law says personnel decisions within the system are supposed to be based on job candidates' qualifications, not politics.
The grand jury returned 29 indictments during its investigation and charged Fletcher with criminal conspiracy, official misconduct and political discrimination. Fletcher's charges were dropped after an agreement with prosecutors. Fletcher issued a blanket pardon for everyone in his administration, other than himself, who could have faced charges stemming from the investigation.
Had the prosecutor moved ahead with the case, Stumbo said Special Judge David Melcher's ruling that Fletcher couldn't be prosecuted while in office could have become case law, effectively barring criminal action against any incumbent, no matter the office.
Stumbo said the prosecutor recognized that pursuing the case could "essentially stop all public corruption cases in Kentucky, and we felt like that wasn't worth the risk."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved