By Joe Lewis - Staff Writer
Dec. 5, 2012 —
Arguments surrounding alleged open meetings violations were heard Thursday in Carter Circuit Court in the case of Renee Stewart and Patrick Flannery vs. Carter Fiscal Court.
Circuit Judge John David Preston of Lawrence, Johnson and Martin counties presided as special judge for the hearing because Carter Circuit Judge Rebecca Phillips recused herself from the case.
Attorney Sebastian Joy called a total of eight witnesses on behalf of Stewart and Flannery, all of whom testified the May 29 fiscal court meeting was filled to capacity with an overflow crowd in the hallway that could not access the proceedings.
Although they were listed as defendants in the case, Magistrates Brad Brammell and Brandon Burton testified on behalf of Stewart and Flannery.
“I don’t believe the room was ideal for that large of a crowd,” Brammell said.
“We needed more room that day,” Burton said.
Joy also called Donna Riley to the stand. Riley was employed by the Boyd County Detention Center at the time of the May 29 meeting, but who now works at the Carter County Detention Center.
Riley testified she and a co-worker arrived to the meeting only to find the fiscal courtroom filled to capacity, at which point they left believing they would not be able to access the proceedings.
After a lunch recess, Preston denied a motion from defense attorney Richard “Sonny” Martin, who argued Joy had not met the burden of proof to show there had, in fact, been a violation of open meeting laws.
In striking down the motion, however, Preston referenced a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling stemming from a similar situation in Knox County, stating the standard set in that case to prove a violation would be very difficult to achieve.
Martin then presented three witnesses of his own, including Kentucky State Police Trooper Randy McCarty, who testified he saw no one waiting in the hallway outside the fiscal courtroom during the May 29 meeting.
Martin also called Chassi Diamond to the stand to contradict earlier testimony from Mignon Colley that a meeting had been scheduled by the Carter County Republican Party.
Colley’s testimony was a key component to the plaintiff’s argument there was another suitable room in the courthouse that could accommodate the large crowd that turned out at the May 29 meeting.
Diamond testified she had no recollection of scheduling the GOP meeting.
During cross-examination, however, Joy insinuated Diamond might be motivated to give false testimony about prior use of the larger courtroom to help out her boss, Judge-Executive Charles Wallace.
Joy furthered his point by highlighting Diamond’s ongoing indictment for welfare fraud, suggesting she could be lying for personal gain. Clearly upset with Joy’s line of questioning, Diamond stormed out of the courtroom after completing her testimony.
The hearing was adjourned early Thursday afternoon after all witness testimony was heard. Preston indicated he needed to review exhibits presented by both the plaintiff and defendant before rendering his final ruling.
Preston gave no timetable as to when that ruling could be expected.
Joe Lewis can be reached at email@example.com or by phone at 286-4201.