Kentucky Gov. Fletcher Pleads Not Guilty to Hiring Scandal Charges

Gov. Ernie Fletcher pleaded not guilty Friday to charges stemming from a state hiring scandal — a plea that was entered by his attorney while the governor remained on vacation in Florida.

Fletcher was indicted last month on charges of conspiracy, official misconduct and political discrimination over the alleged hiring of political allies for protected state jobs.

Judge David Melcher on Friday set Nov. 8 for the start of his trial.

A grand jury has been investigating allegations that members of Fletcher's administration based hiring decisions on politics rather than merit, as required by law. It has issued 29 indictments, but last summer Fletcher pardoned everyone in his administration but himself who might be charged.

Fletcher's personal attorney, R. Kent Westberry, appeared in court to enter the governor's pleas to the misdemeanor charges Friday. Fletcher, who court records indicated was in Palm Beach County, was not required to appear.

Governor's spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker declined to say what Fletcher was doing at the time of his arraignment.

"It's a personal vacation and therefore his daily itinerary is personal as well," Whitaker said.

Assistant prosecutor Scott Crawford-Sutherland said outside court that lawyers had agreed to limit their public comments about the case.

"Gov. Fletcher is like any other criminal defendant. He enjoys the presumption of innocence. It is critical that he receive a fair trial," Crawford-Sutherland said.

Fletcher, a physician, is Kentucky's first Republican governor since 1971. The indictment alleges his administration crafted an elaborate system of screening job candidates and ran background checks on prospects' political affiliations and donations.

The grand jury began investigating after a Transportation Cabinet whistle-blower turned over hundreds of internal administration e-mails and memos on hiring decisions.