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KY County Judge Conducts Business from Jail Cell
Lexington, KY, Herald-Leader ^ | 11-09-03 | Cheves, John

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.

Vote-buying allegations

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.


TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Government
KEYWORDS: donnienewsome; fayetteco; hindman; jail; janicejarrell; judge; karenjones; knottco; ky; sheriffbolen; votebuying
He's no bigger a crook than every other politician," said Karen Joy Jones,

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.

1 posted on 11/09/2003 1:08:49 PM PST by Theodore R.
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To: Theodore R.
Followup to F.O. "Potch" Didier, Jr., former sheriff of Avoyelles Parish, LA:

from Salon.com, 2000

Louisiana is probably one of the few places in the country where Potch Didier, a sheriff from Edward's native Avoyelles Parish, could win reelection while serving a sentence in his own jail.
2 posted on 11/09/2003 1:14:45 PM PST by Theodore R.
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To: Theodore R.
If all of the politicians who commit crimes were behind bars, this country would be a better place. The attitude expressed by some of the Judge's supporters are the same that kept Bill and Hillary Clinton in the white house for eight years.
3 posted on 11/09/2003 1:16:39 PM PST by billhilly (If you're lurking here from DU, I trust this post will make you sick)
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To: Theodore R.
The common thread that weaves these corruption stories together is the Democratic Party.
4 posted on 11/09/2003 1:17:23 PM PST by ambrose
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To: Theodore R.; martin_fierro
Ah ha!! The old "change of venue" defense!!!

This judge could have gotten off scott free if he had only been allowed to buy off the jury pool of admittedly corrupt 'bought and paid for' voters in his local jurisdiction! Oh the humanity!!!!

Lock 'em up and toss the key! This little slice of America is corrupt!
5 posted on 11/09/2003 1:19:34 PM PST by JoeSixPack1 (POW/MIA Bring 'em Home, Or Send us Back!! Semper Fi)
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To: JoeSixPack1; xsmommy
FIFTEEN PARAGRAPHS into the story, we discover that Donnie Newsome is a DEMOCRAT.
6 posted on 11/09/2003 1:30:14 PM PST by martin_fierro (_____oooo_(____)_oooo_____)
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To: Theodore R.
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.

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."

7 posted on 11/09/2003 1:33:04 PM PST by Bubba_Leroy
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To: Theodore R.
I tried to find if "Potch" Didier is still living. All I could find is that he talked with President Carter in 1980 -- that based on Carter's list of people that he talked with from the Oval Office. I don't know if Didier talked by telephone, or if he personally went to the office. He met with Carter through his capacity as the president of the powerful LA Sheriff's Assn., which Carter needed badly in 1980. Carter still narrowly lost LA that year.
8 posted on 11/09/2003 3:20:34 PM PST by Theodore R. (te)
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To: Theodore R.
For those unfamiliar with French names, Didier is pronounced DID E A.
9 posted on 11/09/2003 3:21:33 PM PST by Theodore R. (te)
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To: Theodore R.
He is the judge of the Fiscal Court of the county (in other words, he is the executive of the county, not a judicial officer). Just a clarification for those not familiar with Kentucky politics.
10 posted on 11/09/2003 3:31:56 PM PST by bagman
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To: Theodore R.

potch didier is still alive, i'm his grandson. he is doing quite well.
Damon A. Didier


11 posted on 09/23/2004 11:38:41 AM PDT by numa
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