As the yearlong investigation into allegations of state Merit System violations by the administration of Gov. Ernie Fletcher moves from the grand jury room to the courtroom, the proceedings are now taking on all the characteristics of a comedy of the absurd.
Fletcher, facing three misdemeanor charges relating to Merit System violations, wants Franklin District Judge Guy Hart removed from the case because Harts wife, Shirley, once worked as a non-Merit employee of the Legislative Research Commission, and Guy Hart is acquainted with some of the witnesses in the case.
Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert, pardoned by Fletcher for his involvement in the Merit System abuses but under indictment for violating the state Whistleblower Statute, wants District Judge Thomas Wingate removed from that case because of a relative who is an assistant attorney general, and Wingate is friends with a witness, has relatives who work for state government and is a Democrat.
And attorneys for Fletcher are questioning statements made by Circuit Judge William Graham behind closed doors last week to the special grand jury that indicted Fletcher.
(As this is written, Circuit Judge Roger Crittenden has escaped the anti-judge onslaught, but anything at this point is possible. And so far the case mercifully hasnt made it into Family Court Judge Reed Rhorers courtroom.)
We seriously doubt there is anyone who works in the Franklin County Courthouse from janitor to judge who doesnt have a friend, acquaintance or relative who works for one or another branch of state government. And if defendants are permitted to pick judges based on their political party affiliation, the whole system might just as well shut down.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph Lambert must rule on these various motions about local judges unless, of course, hes asked to step aside for some cockamamie reason.
We expect the chief justice will see all of this as exactly what it is judge shopping, the last resort of desperate defendants and their attorneys.