Skip to comments.KY County Judge Conducts Business from Jail Cell
Posted on 11/09/2003 1:08:48 PM PST by Theodore R.
Judge conducts business from jail AWAITS SENTENCING ON VOTE-BUYING CONVICTION By John Cheves HERALD-LEADER STAFF WRITER
HINDMAN - After a decade in Appalachian politics, Knott County Judge-Executive Donnie Newsome might be more popular behind bars than he ever was at the ballot box.
Newsome, 52, is being held in the Fayette County jail, awaiting a sentence of up to 15 years in federal prison for buying votes in his 1998 election. A jury convicted him last month.
But Newsome continues to serve as county judge, meeting people and signing county papers during visiting hours. He still collects his $63,753 salary. And in Knott County, local residents say they are more outraged by the way he's been treated than by any laws he's broken.
"He's no bigger a crook than every other politician," said Karen Joy Jones, editor of the Troublesome Creek Times, which has devoted its editorial page to letters pleading for his release.
Newsome's defenders are split into two camps. Some insist he's innocent. They blame his fate on "imported" U.S. attorneys from Lexington and a jury sitting 25 miles away in Pikeville's federal courthouse; on local political foes who resent Newsome's favors for the Beaver Creek community; and -- in a recent letter to the editor -- on Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.
"We must stand up and fight lethal terrorists," wrote Bernice Hall of Kite. "Help get our judge out of jail."
Others agree Newsome bought votes and deserves some sort of punishment. But they argue that 15 years in prison would be terribly harsh for fixing an election.
"What he did was wrong, and he needs to pay for it. But-c'mon, every May there are people buying and selling votes here. That's just how it's done. You hand out a little money or cases of beer," said Ragin Slone, a midwifery student.
But Robert Stewart, a semi-retired car dealer, was surprised to see the judge fall on vote-buying charges. Stewart said prosecutors should look instead at a state auditor's report, released in April, alleging Newsome used public funds and a county-owned vehicle for frequent casino trips during work hours and issued no-bid county contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to family and friends.
"Vote buying ain't nothing," said Stewart, finishing his breakfast at a Hindman drug store. "Everyone buys votes around here. Why don't they prosecute him for his real crimes?"
In Frankfort, there is "an active investigation" into Newsome's actions as described by the auditor, said Jim Huggins, director of the state attorney general's public corruption unit.
Newsome, former vice president at D.B.H. Coal Co., pleaded guilty in 1993 to a misdemeanor federal charge of falsifying coal-dust samples, meant to protect miners against black-lung disease. He was sentenced to six months of house arrest.
Later in the 1990s, Newsome served two terms in the Kentucky House of Representatives. Of the 100 House members, Newsome was ranked the second-least effective by the Kentucky Center for Public Issues, a non-profit public-policy center based in Frankfort.
In 1998, Newsome was elected Knott County judge-executive, but only after he and his supporters rigged the Democratic primary by buying votes, according to prosecutors. Since the election, a dozen people from Knott County have either been found guilty by jurors or pleaded guilty to vote fraud.
Officials suspected fraud even before the election because of about 1,000 absentee ballots submitted in a county of only 13,500 registered voters.
Marie Cornett, then a Democratic member of the county election board, told the Herald-Leader at the time: "I got calls that they were using anything they could to buy votes -- money, whiskey, pills, pot. I told people to call the fraud hotline."
Still in office
Newsome, who declined to be interviewed last week, is scheduled for sentencing Jan. 5.
Although he is a felon facing a possibly lengthy prison stint, Kentucky law allows him to keep his elected office until his conviction is affirmed by an appeals court. In the federal court system, that could take a year or more. And in 2002, he was re-elected to another four-year term.
Officials are quick to assure visitors Knott County can operate in his absence, relying on a deputy judge-executive and the fiscal court to handle day-to-day business. Otherwise, Knott leaders are tight-lipped when asked about their jailed judge.
"It's an embarrassment," said Hindman Mayor Janice Jarrell.
"What I do is run my office, and I don't try to interfere in anything else," said Sheriff Ray Bolen.
Offered Randy Slone, the county attorney: "I wish this wasn't the case. But I don't want to discuss it. There's nothing productive to come from talking about it."
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Reach John Cheves at (859) 231-3495 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3495, or at jcheves@ herald-leader.com.
This is the highlight of the story. KY politicians are excused for their "crookedness."
In 1970, there was a legendary sheriff in south Louisiana who also conducted business from his jail cell. F.O. Didier, Jr., a hugely popular Democrat, was jailed for malfeasance but continue to operate out of jail.
Look how far down the article you have to go before there is any mention that he is a democRAT. If he had been a Republican, the title of the article would have been, "Republican Judge Conducts Business in Jail Cell."
potch didier is still alive, i'm his grandson. he is doing quite well.
Damon A. Didier