Kentucky Governor Settles Ethics Charges

Gov. Paul Patton (search) said he settled ethics charges against him not because he was guilty but because he would have been found guilty by the Executive Branch Ethics Commission (search).

Patton reached an agreement with the commission Sunday to avoid an administrative hearing, scheduled to start Monday. He acknowledged to two instances of using his power and influence to benefit Tina Conner, a woman with whom he had an affair, and commission members dropped two other charges stemming from the relationship.

The Democratic governor, who was barred by law from seeking a third term this year and leaves office next month, agreed to accept a $5,000 fine and a public reprimand. As part of the agreement, Patton said he admitted to unknowingly violating portions of the state ethics law.

"I have regrets about what I did. But as far as the specific actions with which I have been charged, I did not believe that they were violations of the law," Patton said. "They only became a violation of the law when the Ethics Commission redefined the law based on their opinion of what the law ought to be."

The commission alleged that Patton intervened - at Conner's request - to get a promotion for a vehicle-enforcement officer who was her friend; improperly arranged for a business owned by Conner's then-husband, Seth Conner, to be certified as a disadvantaged business enterprise; appointed Tina Conner to the Kentucky Lottery Board (search); and appointed Seth Conner to the Agriculture Development Board.

Patton admitted to the promotion and business certification charges but later maintained his innocence.

"I did nothing differently then I and my people had done before - and that we had done based on the advice of legal counsel - and that I am confident that every governor before me has likewise done," Patton said.

The agreement was "reasonable and appropriate to the violations we were evaluating," said Joseph Helm Jr., commission chairman. He said he hoped the investigation and settlement would show lawmakers that they are not above the law.

"It is important to this body," Helm said, "and to the people of Kentucky that their public servants behave in an ethical manner."

Earlier this month, Republican Ernie Fletcher (search) capitalized on voter disgust with Patton's extramarital affair and other scandals, and was elected governor. In doing so, Fletcher ended Democrats' 32-year hold on the office. He is to be inaugurated Dec. 9.