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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

6Th Circuit Court Of Appeals Springs A (Kentucky Circuit Judge Cletus) Maricle, Overturns Verdict In Vote Buying Fraud Case.

Court overturns convictions in vote fraud case

Eight people from southeastern Kentucky were granted new trials Wednesday after a federal appeals court overturned their convictions in what prosecutors described as a massive vote buying scheme that stretched over three elections.
The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves allowed jurors to hear some evidence that should not have been admitted and erred in his handling of transcripts of secret tape recordings that an informant made during the FBI investigation.

The unanimous ruling means former Clay County Circuit Judge R. Cletus Maricle, former school superintendent Doug Adams and six other defendants will get a second chance to contest the allegations stemming from the 2002, 2004 and 2006 elections.

Writing for the court, Judge Karen Nelson Moore concluded the errors taken alone might not have hurt the defendants' ability to get a fair trial. But, Moore wrote, the cumulative effect of the mistakes tainted the legal proceedings.
"Given that the government was able to paint an unfair picture of the defendants and offer direct prejudicial evidence that should have been excluded, we remand the case for a new trial," Moore wrote.

Along with Maricle and Adams, former county Clerk Freddy Thompson; former Magistrate Stanley Bowling; Charles Wayne Jones, who was the county's Democratic election commissioner; William E. Stivers, an election officer; and Bart and Debra Morris, a couple who owned a garbage business that had contracts with Manchester and Clay County were covered by the decision.

Prosecutors argued that the group conspired to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy votes in one of the nation's poorest counties in 2002, 2004 and 2006. Attorneys for the eight argued that witnesses were unreliable and that Reeves allowed prosecutors to present some evidence that was not proper.

Several other local officials pleaded guilty to vote-buying and corruption charges in related cases.
Reeves handed down lengthy sentences in the case, including 24 years for Maricle, 69, who is being held at a federal prison in Beaumont, Texas, and 20 years for Adams, 61, who is being held at a federal prison in Elkton, Ohio.

The government has 20 days to seek a review of the decision by the entire appeals court.
"We are reviewing the Court's opinion and will carefully consider how best to proceed with this prosecution," Kerry B. Harvey, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

Kent Westberry, a Louisville attorney who represented Adams, said it is likely that defense attorneys will seek release for their clients on bond pending a new trial.
"We'll be in front of the judge on that soon enough," Westberry told The Associated Press.
Adams, who served as school superintendent from 1999 through 2007, was considered a political boss in Clay County. Maricle served as a judge from 1991 through 2007 and was also considered a political boss. Both men were portrayed by prosecutors as leaders of the conspiracy.

The court's ruling mainly turned on a prosecution decision to offer several witnesses to testify about a decade-old drug conspiracy. Moore concluded the testimony shouldn't have been allowed because there was no direct link between the drug sales and the vote buying allegations.
"Furthermore, the sheer amount of drug-dealing evidence that was presented is entirely disproportionate to its probative value, tipping the scales toward unfair prejudice," Moore wrote. "In sum, the evidence of widespread drug dealing in Clay County did not serve as a prelude to the present case or help complete the story of the offense."

The government conceded in legal briefs that the testimony shouldn't have been allowed, but argued it wasn't a large enough error to have damaged the proceedings.
Westberry said the team of defense attorneys felt good after oral arguments about winning on that point.
"But, you just don't ever know what they're going to do until you see a written opinion," Westberry said.

The defendants did not win on every point. The appeals panel said Reeves properly ruled that vote-buying was a proper element to use in prosecuting the eight under a racketeering law.
Moore also found that prosecutors had sufficient evidence against Adams to convict him of vote buying. The court rejected arguments from five other defendants, each of whom claimed a lack of evidence in the case. Moore found that the group didn't explain well enough why they though the evidence was insufficient and rejected their claims.

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