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Judge strikes law banning lobbyists from giving gifts, money to lawmakers

By Jack Brammer

Lexington Herald-Leader

FRANKFORT — A federal judge has struck down part of Kentucky’s legislative ethics code, ruling that state lawmakers can accept gifts from lobbyists and that lobbyists can make campaign contributions to candidates for the state legislature. U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman handed down the 35-page order Wednesday in Covington. The ruling was a victory for state Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, and two Libertarian political candidates who sued in September 2015 to overturn state laws limiting campaign donations to $1,000 and prohibiting gifts to legislators from lobbyists.

Bertelsman declined to rule on the issue of campaign contribution limits, saying the issue is moot because the legislature this year doubled the limit. He did, however, rule that legislators cannot set up caucus campaign committees, which give unlimited contributions to campaigns. Caucus campaign committees gave nearly $800,000 to winning campaigns in Kentucky’s 2016 elections.

“I don’t know if legislative leadership will be happy about that,” said Schickel. In their lawsuit, the politicians argued that the ethics laws violate their constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection by restricting their access to people who want to help them. State regulators countered that the laws were meant to prevent bribery at the state Capitol. Most of the rules were enacted after Operation BOPTROT, an FBI investigation in 1992 that exposed 15 current or former legislators who sold their votes. Don Blandford, the House speaker, was among those sent to prison.

In his decision, Bertelsman wrote that “influencing the government through the act of lobbying is at the heart of the political process. A law that specifically restricts what a lobbyist can and cannot do regarding a legislative member of government is a suppression on their freedom of association with those individuals.”

The judge, who was appointed to the federal bench by former President Jimmy Carter, said the state’s prohibition on gifts included “anything of value.” He said that was too vague. Officials with the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission and the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, which oversees campaign spending, said Wednesday they were reviewing the judge’s order and considering an appeal. Schickel said he was “overjoyed” with the order. “He got it exactly right, noting that a lobbyist couldn’t even give a legislator a glass of water” under existing laws, Schickel said.

The lawmaker said any legislator who commits bribery should go to prison, “but we’ve had ethical problems since the ethics code was created. There always will be corruption.”

Attorney General Andy Beshear called the judge’s order “a very dangerous decision that opens the door for a significant amount of corruption.”

Under the order, a lobbyist pushing a certain bill could give legislators gifts or campaign contributions that could influence the vote, Beshear said.

“It is very concerning,” he said. “I hope that that decision is appealed by the parties in it and I hope they seek an injunction during that appeal so we don’t see lobbyists and legislators involved in what could easily be viewed as corrupt activities during that interim.”

Beshear added that he will consider whether his office can intervene in the case. George Troutman, chairman of the Legislative Ethics Commission, said he considers the order “unfortunate for the people of Kentucky.”

“We have seen that the giving of gifts has led to corruption,” Troutman said. “However, we don’t make the law and the ball is now in the legislative court to address what should be done.”

Longtime lobbyist Bob Babbage of Lexington suggested that the General Assembly might want to alter the law so that legislators must publicly disclose gifts “over a set value.”

“Overall, the ethics code may not be constitutional but it has served our purposes very well,” Babbage said. Richard Beliles, chairman of the ethics watchdog group Common Cause of Kentucky, said he is “sorry for the public. This will have disastrous consequences.”

John Steffen, executive director of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, said he was still reviewing Bertelsman’s order to determine how it would affect the state’s campaign finance laws.

“At this point, we’re not sure of all the consequences,” he said.

Despite sheriff’s heroic effort, Logan man dies in house fire

By Robyn L. Minor

Bowling Green Daily News

AUBURN — A Logan County man died Wednesday as a result of a house fire that sent the county’s sheriff to the hospital for treatment. Sheriff Wallace Whittaker went into the home twice to try to find resident Jerry Caudill, who lived alone. On the second attempt, the sheriff removed Caudill from the house on Montgomery Road outside Auburn, but Caudill’s life could not be saved.

Logan County Coroner Mary Givens, who is also a member of one of the fire departments that responded, pronounced Caudill, 69, dead at the scene. Givens said Caudill probably died from smoke inhalation, but his body was to be sent Thursday to Madisonville for an autopsy to officially determine the cause.

“The fire started in the basement and then got into the walls,” Givens said. Whittaker said he went into the black smoke-filled house once to look for Caudill, came out for air and then returned before finding him.

“I was just thinking I need to find him,” Whittaker said in a telephone interview Thursday morning from his bed at Logan Memorial Hospital. “A neighbor was there and said he couldn’t see anything inside. I couldn’t see anything the first time. I went back in with a flashlight and found him collapsed in the hallway. He was already dead. … The house was just filled with black sooty smoke pouring out from everywhere.”

Brenda Whittaker, the sheriff’s wife, said: “When I got to the ER and saw him … that room just smelled of smoke.”

Brenda Whittaker said Caudill’s family has already expressed their thanks to Wallace Whittaker for getting Caudill out of the burning house. Logan Memorial kept Wallace Whittaker overnight to treat him for smoke inhalation.

“His bronchial tubes were swollen and weren’t going back down,” Brenda Whittaker said. “They wanted to watch him, and I think they pumped him full of steroids.”

Wallace Whittaker said he was waiting Thursday morning for a pulmonologist to determine if he could be released from the hospital. He still was coughing and had a scratchy throat. Givens, who had to leave before the scene was completely cleared, expects that the brick home was a loss. The initial call shortly after noon went to the Auburn Volunteer Fire Department, but the Russellville City and Russellville Rural Fire Departments were also called, Givens said.

“They always dispatch us to fire calls,” Wallace Whittaker said. “And I just happened to be in Auburn, so I went.”

Elsie Carpenter, who lives nearby, said she knew Caudill for 66 years.

“He’s been a very good neighbor,” Carpenter said. “He grew up with my kids. He and my daughter played together when they were little and his daddy raised crops on our farm.”

Carpenter said she was outside working “and I just kept hearing sirens coming. I could see straight across the farm and could see the vehicles just a coming over on Montgomery Road. I called my neighbor to see if she was all right. She said they were going to Jerry’s house. I’ve never seen so many lights. I didn’t find out until later what had happened. I couldn’t see any smoke or fire.”

Carpenter said Caudill fell from a horse several years ago and had a disability as a result, but he was still able to care for cattle.

“He was just a good young friend to me,” she said. Wallace Whittaker said he is sending prayers to the family. “It is just a tragic loss,” he said. Police investigate Rockcastle deaths

by the Kentucky Press News Service

MOUNT VERNON — KSP is working on a death investigation in Rockcastle County, in a residence along U.S. 25, according to WKYT.

State police were contacted by Mount Vernon police officers after reportedly finding two deceased individuals in a home on North Wilderness Road (U.S. 25) shortly after 6:30 a.m. Thursday. The two victims have been identified as a dead adult male and an adult female, WKYT reported on its website. A female had called 911 to report the incident. The local coroner is on the scene now.

Harness racing set to return Friday to Bluegrass Downs

by The Paducah Sun

PADUCAH — Paducah’s Bluegrass Downs begins its month-long 2017 harness racing schedule Friday. The track, located at 150 Downs Drive off Park Avenue, will host races beginning at 5 p.m. each Friday, Saturday and Sunday through July 9. This year’s start time has been moved back one hour from its previous 4 p.m. start, according to Jada Elliott, Bluegrass Downs office manager.

“We talked to the horsemen, and they wanted to run a little later when it might be a little cooler,” Elliott said. Admission to the races is free, with the exception of this Saturday when the Belmont Stakes will be run. Bluegrass Downs simulcasts thoroughbred racing year-round.

The 5/8-mile Bluegrass Downs track hosts up to 10 daily races. Both the 2016 leading driver, Randy Crisler Jr., and the 2016 leading trainer, Harley Emerson, return this year to try to retain their titles, Elliott said. Harness racing differs from thoroughbred racing in that the standardbred horses trot rather than gallop, and harness jockeys are pulled in a two-wheeled cart called a sulky.

Woman makes plea to shooter who killed her 7-year-old son

By Beth Warren

The Courier-Journal

LOUISVILLE — The mother of a boy shot at his kitchen table eating cake wants to deliver a message to the unknown killer: “It’s going to keep eating your soul.”

“I’m pretty sure you’ve seen my son everywhere,” Micheshia Norment, 25, said Wednesday of news coverage since the death of 7-year-old Dequante Hobbs Jr.

“It’s not going away. Turn yourself in.”

More than two weeks have passed since the May 21 slaying in Louisville’s Russell neighborhood. The boy’s mother said knowing the gunman remains free keeps her awake at night. Dequante saw himself as a young man, not a kid like his little sister, Norment said. He wanted his own room. That’s why his family moved to a rental home in the 2100 block of West Madison Street less than two months before a stray bullet ripped through a window and into the boy’s head at 8:20 p.m.

Lt. Emily McKinley, who supervises homicide investigations, and lead detective Stephen Snider attended the boy’s funeral and both have issued public pleas for help solving the case. Police said just before the shooting there was fight at a dice game in the backyard of an adjacent home on Dr. W.J. Hodge Street. Police believe the fight led to gunfire. The boy’s mother and his grandmother, Priscilla Norment, say they have barely slept since hearing the shattering of glass and Dequante’s scream.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” said the grandmother, who is a nursing assistant. “I just miss him so much. He was always with me.”

The boy’s mother, a downtown security guard, also made an appeal to witnesses or others with information that could help solve her son’s case.

“Come forward. Do what’s right.”

She wrote a plea on her car’s rear windshield: “Justice 4 Lil DQ.” A passenger window reads: “RIH” for Rest In Heaven. His 3-year-old sister is having trouble understanding that he’s not coming back and recently asked their grandmother to call him. Dequante — known as “Lil DQ” — liked to teach her dance moves and hold her hand, even opening the door for her like a little gentleman. He also liked to fix things like his father, Dequante Hobbs Sr., who dubbed him “my little mechanic.”

During a news conference at police headquarters two days after the shooting, Snider pleaded for witnesses to come forward.

“This little child deserves justice … You need to come forward and help this family and help our city heal from this,” he said. Dequante’s homicide is one of 57 investigated by Louisville Metro police so far this year, including Wednesday’s fatal shooting of a man in the Parkland neighborhood.

That’s a 16 percent uptick in homicides from this time in 2016 — a year that ended with a decades-high death toll.

Detectives urge anyone with information on Dequante’s killing to call the police department’s anonymous tip line at 574-LMPD.

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