The looming drama in District Court

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In the week since Gov. Ernie Fletcher was indicted for three misdemeanors in connection with the state hiring investigation, some of the attention has shifted from the special grand jury room to the more pedestrian milieu of Franklin District Court the jurisdiction that typically handles traffic tickets, cold checks and assorted crimes, generally of the petty sort. The question has arisen whether the governor of the commonwealth should deign to appear in such a venue for his arraignment, scheduled for June 7.

Its a no-brainer to the governors staff, apparently. Spokesman Brett Hall says Fletcher has no intention of making a perp walk in the melodrama the administration feels is being orchestrated by Attorney General Greg Stumbo for political purposes. To do so would be demeaning, he says, especially for a measly misdemeanor a statement evoking memories of a sports prima donna some years back who huffed that he didnt have to waste his valuable time answering questions from $100-a-week losers, meaning reporters.

District Judge Guy Hart, who presumably does not think of his courtroom as a particularly undignified place, offered his opinion that the governor should show up for arraignment out of respect for the court, even though criminal rules dont require a defendants presence for a misdemeanor arraignment. Shortly thereafter, Fletchers lawyers filed an affidavit asking Hart to recuse himself from the case, citing the judges friendship with a potential witness.

In fact, it probably would be best if Judge Hart did take himself off the case, even if he feels fully capable of rendering an impartial decision. An investigation for which a special prosecutor was appointed likely deserves a special judge anyway. County Attorney Rick Sparks, who normally prosecutes suspected law-breakers in District Court, has already said he wont be prosecuting the governor. Its another prosecutors case, he figures.

If the governors misdemeanor case ever comes to trial, there will already be plenty of suspicion about the attorney generals involvement in the matter. The last thing the justice system needs is even the slightest ambiguity about the neutrality of the individual sitting on the bench.

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