Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Baby Stumbo strikes again (or GWR, redux)

The fun never ends in Morgan County.

We have previously chronicled the politically motivated prosecution of Tim Conley, Morgan County's Republican judge-executive, on trumped-up charges that he improperly directed county dollars to repairing his personally-owned bulldozer and that he wrongly had county road materials used for church parking lots. The investigation and indictments came last year just before Conley, a rare GOP county judge in a Democratic county, faced off against Democrat opponent Mike Gevedon in last year's election. Despite the smear job, or perhaps because of it, Conley won re-election by a margin that surprised most everyone who had an eye on that contest.

The indictments that were returned against Conley were eventually dismissed on a technicality, but the story doesn't end there. Special prosecutor Brent Turner has vowed to re-present the charges to a new grand jury.

We have a new name for Turner. We're going to call him "Baby Stumbo."

The name's fitting. For one thing, Turner is commonwealth's attorney in Floyd County and is a political associate and crony of Greg Stumbo, the Floyd County resident who is ending his term as attorney general. Just as Stumbo has shown that he will use his power and his office for partisan political purposes, obviously so too will Turner.

This whole case is worrisome on several fronts. Foremost among them is the fact that the charges being sought against Conley aren't for the actual alleged acts. Turner is seeking to charge Conley with something called "abuse of the public trust," which means that if Conley is convicted of that offense, he could never hold public office in Kentucky ever again.

Baby Stumbo and the Democrats aren't just trying to regain the Morgan County judge-executive's office. They are trying to personally ruin Conley for having the audacity to be an elected Republican in a Democrat county.

Conley's only crime is called "governing while Republican," or GWR for short, and Stumbo successfully prosecuted Gov. Ernie Fletcher on that very same charge.

The case has spurred strong feelings in Morgan County, where Conley's popularity obviously transcends party lines. The publisher of the local newspaper, a self-admitted Democrat, penned a stirring defense of Conley and his character a couple of months back. That drew the ire of the county attorney, one of the most partisan Democrats in the county, who fired off a letter in response. The newspaper publisher's response was to pick the county attorney's letter apart and reprint his editorial alongside the county attorney's letter.

The actual facts of the case are that Conley lent his personally-owned bulldozer to the cash-strapped county to do some road repairs. When the bulldozer broke down while in use by the county road department, the county paid to repair it. That makes perfect sense. If you borrow your neighbor's lawn mower and it tears up while in your possession, it's the right thing to do to fix it. Similarly, since the bulldozer broke down while in use by the county, it was prudent for the county to pay for the repairs.

The other allegation is that Conley had drainage pipes installed for church parking lots, constituting an improper use of county materials and personnel. If this is an indictable offense, then every rural county judge in the state needs to be thrown out of office. It's a common occurrence for rural counties to repair church and cemetery roads and to clear them of snow in the winter.

Baby Stumbo's initial prosecution of Conley failed to achieve the desired results. Conley won his re-election campaign. The removal from office provision of the "abusing the public trust" violation was a consolation prize. However, the dismissal of the charges because the grand jury had exceeded its 90-day term without an official extension should have ended this sordid affair. The people of Morgan County spoke loudly and clearly in November, 2006. They said they did not believe Conley had committed any criminal offenses and that he should remain in office.

Baby Stumbo and Conley's Democrat foes in Morgan County should heed that message.

And one final comment on this matter -- if any situation ever cried out for the governor to use his pardon power to check prosecutorial abuse, this is it. Outgoing Gov. Ernie Fletcher should be sure to issue a pardon for Conley for any offenses relating to this farce of an investigation to bring it to a merciful end.

After all, Fletcher knows what it's like to be convicted of GWR. He has it in his power to spare Conley of the same torture.

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