Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Opinion

March 12, 2013

Ousted at last

Another Knott leader goes from courthouse to prison

ASHLAND — Nearly five years after being convicted of conspiring to buy votes Knott County Judge-Executive Randy Thompson has been removed from office. It is evidence of how slowly the wheels of justice can move.

After begin convicted of buying votes in the November 2006 general election, Thompson remained free on bond while he appealed his conviction. Meanwhile, he continued to serve as the judge-executive in the Knott County seat of Hindman and was even re-elected to a second four-year term in 2010. Despite the fact that Thompson had been found guilty in federal court of buying votes that helped him win the election in 2006 and was facing a prison term, the popular Thompson was easily re-elected.

Thompson exhausted his appeals in November when a federal appeals court refused to reconsider an order upholding his conviction. Thompson began serving his sentence at a federal prison in Pennsylvania on Dec. 6.

Despite being incarcerated in another state, Thompson refused to voluntarily step down as judge-executive. That forced Floyd County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brent Turner, serving as special prosecutor in the case, to file a motion that Thompson be removed from office, and Judge John David Caudill approved it after a hearing Friday.

Turner argued that the state Constitution prohibits convicted felons from holding office.

Turner was acting on behalf of Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway because the commonwealth’s attorney and circuit judge in Knott County had both recused themselves from the case.

At Friday’s brief hearing, attorneys for Thompson argued that even if the state constitution clearly says a convicted felon cannot serve in public office, it does not state how to remove the person from office. They also continued that the crime for which Thompson was convicted was related to his first term as judge-executive not the term for which he was elected in 2010.

For the people of Knott County, Randy Thompson’s tenure as judge-executive may have seemed like an instant replay of rigged elections. After all, Thompson’s predecessor as judge-executive — Donnie Newsome — also was convicted of vote buying and he continued to serve as the county’s chief executive from a jail cell in a neighboring county. The only major difference between the plights of Newsome and Thompson is that Thompson was not behind bars while appealing his conviction, while Newsome was.

Ironically, former Gov. Ernie Fetcher appointed Thompson judge-executive in 2005, following the forced resignation of Newsome. Nevertheless, when Thompson ran for office in 2006, he was convicted of the same misdeeds for which Newsome was convicted. Is political corruption so prevalent in the county that it is next to impossible to have a fair election? One has to wonder.

May the next countywide election in Knott County in 2014, be a fair and open one. The honest people of the county deserve nothing less. It is time for the people to demand real democracy in Knott County.

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