Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

April 8, 2009

Judge orders stay in rock suit

Ashland — A federal judge has ordered that a civil lawsuit filed by the state of Kentucky about the removal of a historic boulder from the Ohio River be placed on hold until after the criminal cases against two of the defendants are resolved.

In a ruling handed down on Monday, Senior U.S. District Henry R. Wilhoit Jr. granted motions by the attorneys for Steven R. Shaffer and David G. Vetter to stay the claims against their clients.

Wilhoit also ordered that the case be held in abeyance “in its entirety” until after the resolution of the criminal cases.

Shaffer, an Ironton historian, and Vetter, of Portsmouth, both were named in a civil lawsuit filed in February by Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s office seeking the return of an 8-ton boulder known as Indian Head Rock, which was floated from the bottom of the river near South Shore by a dive team in 2007, was pulled out of the water by a crane and is currently being stored in the Portsmouth City Garage.

Shaffer and Vetter also were indicted last year by a Greenup County jury on charges of illegally removing an object of antiquity, a Class D felony.

In separately filed motions, attorneys Michael Curtis and Paul Craft, who represent Shaffer and Vetter, respectively, argued that requiring their clients to respond to the state’s complaint would, in effect, require them to surrender their rights under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution with regard to the criminal matter, since the lawsuit is based on the same allegations as the criminal case.

In his ruling, Wilhoit wrote that he was ordering the case held in abeyance to avoid “piecemeal discovery.”

Wilhoit also ordered that all parties in the lawsuit file a joint status report within 10 days of the final order in the criminal matter.

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