COMMONWEALTH ATTORNEY JIM CRAWFORD APPOINTED BY ATTN. GEN. TO INVESTIGAGE HENRY CAMPAIGN FINANCE COMPLAINT
State Atty.-Gen. Greg Stumbo, who is running for Lieutenant Governor with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lunsford, has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate a complaint by one of former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry’s ex-supporters relating to election finance irregularities. Henry, Lunsford, and five other Democrats are running in the May 22 primary. Twelfth Judicial District Commonwealth’s Atty. Jim Crawford has drawn the assignment, according to an Apr. 14 story in The Herald-Leader by The Associated Press’ Joe Biesk, to review charges made by Louisvillian Leslie Holland against Henry that have been filed with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. Crawford, who lives in Carrollton, serves a district encompassing Carroll, Owen, and Grant counties.This article was written in 2003, but it still reflects why Crawford was the candidate for the appointment for this investigation. He can be expected to speedy.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Crawford runs a well-oiled machine, lawyers and police say.
By ANDREW WOLFSON The Courier-Journal Sunday, October 19, 2003
WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky. — Caught red-handed cooking methamphetamine in a Grant County mobile home, 48-year-old Freddie Ray Kenney didn’t waste time.
Just two weeks after he was indicted in July 2002 on a charge of manufacturing the powerfully addictive stimulant, he pleaded guilty. The next month he began serving a 20-year sentence at the Kentucky State Penitentiary.
“We interviewed Freddie and he said there was just no use fighting it,” said Police Capt. Roger Humphrey, an agent of the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force.
Said Kenney from prison: “They wasn’t going to budge on me at all.”
Welcome to the 15th Judicial Circuit — Grant, Owen and Carroll counties — where justice is served on the fast track and defendants are placed on a conveyor belt that often leads to prison.
Unlike many other counties in Kentucky, where cases linger for years, are lost in the system or are dismissed for prosecutorial inaction, most felonies in these three counties are prosecuted in four months or less, and even murders are resolved within a year.
“The docket moves very, very fast,” former public defender Jonathan Wells said.
Police detectives, defense lawyers, court clerks — and defendants like Kenney — credit what they say is a well-oiled assembly line and its tough-as-nails foreman — Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Crawford.
“Jim Crawford moves cases about as quick as any commonwealth’s attorney I’ve ever seen,” said Florence lawyer Jack Gatlin, a former Grant County public defender who was Kenney’s lawyer.
Crawford says delay is his enemy and moving cases quickly is the cornerstone of his philosophy.
“Witnesses disappear and victims get burned out” if cases drag on, Crawford said. “The quicker you punish somebody who has done a wrong, the better chance you have of changing that person,” said Crawford, who has been in office for 14 years.
Justice is not only swift in the 15th Judicial Circuit, but it is also severe, said defense lawyers, police and prosecutors who work there.
A Courier-Journal sampling of 120 Carroll County felony cases from 1995 to 2001 showed that 72 percent of the guilty pleas were to the original charge, not a lesser one.
“He just doesn’t cut deals,” Covington criminal defense lawyer Linda Smith said of Crawford. “He doesn’t take crap cases to the grand jury, so the ones that do go through stand on all fours.”
GLARING CONTRAST Bullitt County‘s not far, – but it was far behind
The southwestern edge of the mostly rural circuit is only about 60 miles from Bullitt County, but in the speed with which its court system dispatches cases, it might as well be on another planet.
In Bullitt County last year, The Courier-Journal found that in hundreds of cases involving charges of murder, rape, drug trafficking and other felonies, people escaped prosecution over two decades because cases had been misplaced, mismanaged and otherwise delayed. The newspaper found 230 cases that were at least 3 years old.
In the Carroll, Grant and Owen circuit, there were only three that old.
In Bullitt County, felony cases lingered from as long ago as 1983; in Carroll and Grant counties, the oldest cases were opened just last year. In counties such as Franklin and Bullitt, the newspaper found, cases fell off the calendar once a defendant was arraigned, sometimes never to be called back to court. But in the Carroll, Grant and Owen circuit, felony defendants always have a next date with Circuit Judge Steve Bates, whether they want one or not.
Carroll and Grant move cases faster than any other counties in Kentucky — nearly nine times as fast as the slowest county. Despite the speed with which defendants are processed, the commonwealth gets tough results in the circuit:
More than twice as many people prosecuted in Carroll, Grant and Owen are in Kentucky prisons as from Franklin County, even though fewer people live in the three counties combined. As of Sept. 1, according to state Corrections Department figures, 282 inmates were incarcerated from Carroll, Grant and Owen, which have a combined population of 43,086, compared with 133 from Franklin, which has 47,687 residents.
It wasn’t always such. Appointed in 1989 when his predecessor suffered a heart attack four days after the tragic Carroll County church-bus crash on Interstate 71, Crawford inherited a backlog of 400 cases.
“I got caught up and decided to stay caught up,” he said.
Crawford’s staff works closely with police to weed out weak cases that might bog the system down later. “We don’t take a case to the grand jury unless it is thoroughly investigated and ready to go,” he said.
At annual seminars, police in the three counties are trained on what to expect from Crawford and his assistant commonwealth’s attorney and on what prosecutors will expect from them.
“You don’t take him half-investigated garbage,” Grant County Chief Deputy Sheriff Chuck Dills said. “I have seen him go off on officers who don’t have their case together.”
Said defense lawyer Steve Howe of Williamstown: “You can hear him in the back room chewing a police officer’s rear end if it’s a poor case or if the officer is presenting it only to appease the victim.”
Law-enforcement officers like Carrollton Police Chief Mike Wilhoit said Crawford is so demanding that police make sure cases are ready for trial the day of indictment.
“We don’t indict hoping for a conviction,” Wilhoit said. “We know we can prove it.”
Crawford, who is a part-time prosecutor and also has a private practice in civil law, uses his entire government staff to make sure cases are ready — and worthy — before they are presented.
Secretary Mimi Sherrell (known as “The Dictionary” for her seeming ability to recall from memory every case the office has ever prosecuted during her tenure) and victims advocate Wayne Heightchew, a retired Kentucky State Police detective, review every case and call police to tie up loose ends.
Defense lawyers say weak cases and charges are sent back to district court or dismissed. Retired public defender Michael Williams said Crawford does not inflate charges to start with, and as a result “he can take the charge in the indictment and say to the defendant, `Take it or leave it.’”
Lawyers and police say he is willing to stand up to anybody — and often does — to keep cases moving and to weed out those that don’t belong in circuit court, where felonies are prosecuted.
Crawford, who is serving his third term after being re-elected twice with no opposition, said: “Some of my colleagues don’t know how to say `No.’ It is tough to sit down with a family and tell them a crime has not been committed when their child or husband has been killed.”
“Everybody wants to keep their docket moving,” he said. “But it takes a certain discipline to accomplish that.”
CONVEYOR BELT ‘Goal is to keep stuff moving’
Once a case comes into the system, an ironclad process takes over.
Defendants are told in advance when their cases will be presented to the grand jury, allowing them to be arraigned the day they are indicted. A pretrial hearing — usually within two weeks — is scheduled at that time. At the pretrial hearing, a report date — a cutoff date for plea negotiations — and a trial date are scheduled.
Former Carroll County public defender Jonathan Wells said, “It is hard on such a timeline to properly investigate cases, to line up expert witnesses, to get your ducks in a row.”
“Once we get a case in the system, we’ve got it where we can track it,” Crawford said.
And track cases they do.
Once a year, Crawford sends his assistant, Jason Hiltz, to all three counties to check their court clerks’ file drawers to see if there is any case just sitting there, not moving. “The goal is to keep stuff moving and not to lose anything,” Hiltz said.
Clerks in the three counties also play a role. Every six months, for example, Carroll Chief Deputy Clerk Susan Caldon scours printouts provided by the state Administrative Office of Courts, looking for criminal cases with no future court date to make sure one is assigned.
Crawford said that is the key: “You’ve always gotta have another date.”
Trials are usually scheduled within two months of arraignment. Evidence-suppression and competency hearings are held at routine motion hours, rather than on separate days, compressing the docket and speeding it along. Continuances are granted sparingly and only for good cause by Judge Bates, who lawyers say is fair but keen on keeping current.
The culture of quickness is so strong that last March, when Louisville defense lawyer Charles Ricketts had to twice request continuances in a robbery case after overlooking personal conflicts — including “entertaining relatives from Great Britain” — he found himself apologizing profusely, blaming a glitch in his handheld computer.
Defense lawyers say the system succeeds also because Crawford’s office forks over evidence reports and photographs fully and quickly. Confessions and witness statements are provided within two weeks, sometimes on the day of indictment.
That allows defense counsel to quickly evaluate their case.
“The beauty of the system is that he doesn’t mess around with discovery,” the process through which one side obtains evidence from the other, Smith said. “He gets it to you. And you don’t have much of an excuse for not sticking to the timeline.”
Said Gatlin, who represented Kenney in the methamphetamine case: “You know exactly what you’re facing” — and so does the client.
The result is that defendants often quickly plead guilty, or if they don’t, their cases can proceed to trial without delay, lawyers say.
The report date — the do-or-die cutoff for negotiating a plea agreement or electing to go to trial — also encourages swifter settlements and saves time, by forcing both sides to evaluate their hand and averts last-minute pleas on the morning of trial, lawyers say.
The 15th Circuit is one of only a few that has such a cutoff, said Jefferson Circuit Judge James Shake, the new president of the Kentucky Circuit Judges Association. But in that circuit, defense lawyers, police, prosecutors and court officials all seem to champion it.
“The report date is a plus because it brings everything to a head — both sides know what the evidence is and whether it is worth it to go to trial,” said Wells, the former public defender in Carroll County.
And when cases are settled well before the trial date, clerks can avoid calling in a jury pool for a case that won’t be tried, which is “a waste of time and taxpayers’ money,” Caldon said.
If no deal is struck by the report date, said Wilhoit, the Carrollton police chief, “that’s when we start lining up witnesses and making sure they’re in town for trial.”
The result, he said, is fewer delays when the trial date arrives.
TRICKS OF THE TRADE Preparation makes trials speedy – or unnecessary
In Carroll, Grant and Owen counties, even the trials have a twist designed to encourage efficiency.
Unlike other circuits, Bates schedules jury trials at 8:30 a.m., rather than 9 or 9:30. The early start allows “one-day trials to be tried in one day” and not run over into the next, Crawford said.
Little things such as starting court early add up to delivering justice quickly, Crawford said.
“Victims want punishment for criminals, but they want to get it over with,” he said.
“Waiting one or two years to get a conviction, to make a defendant get a job or a GED or drug counseling [all of which are frequent conditions of probation], is not really helping them either,” Crawford said. Defendants released on bond tend to get in trouble again while they’re awaiting trial — “and then you have two cases against them.”
Crawford’s office tries few cases — he said they take too much time and manpower. “Thirty trials a year would kill us,” he said. Defense lawyers and detectives say it also helps that in the rare cases that go to trial, juries in the three counties are conservative, and usually are murder on defendants, especially those who steal or sell drugs.
Defense lawyers — and defendants — remember the case of a Louisville man who was caught stealing cartons of cigarettes in 1999 from a Carroll County tobacco outlet and took his chances at trial. He got a 20-year sentence for theft and for being a persistent felon. He died in prison.
“The folklore is that juries are even harsher than Crawford — and it is true,” said Smith, whose client Jeremy Dale Allender accepted a sentence last year of life without parole for 25 years for murder rather than risk a death sentence at trial.
But to keep defense lawyers and their clients honest, Crawford said, it is important to try murder cases from time to time and get good results. “The defense bar watches those,” he said.
Last year Crawford won a jury verdict of life without parole against Russell “Rusty” Hill, a 39-year-old truck driver convicted of the fatal shooting of an Owen County neighbor whom he suspected was having an affair with his wife.
“You have to have serious cojones to go to trial in these counties,” said Gatlin, the former public defender. Kenney, who pleaded guilty to the methamphetamine charge two weeks after indictment, said he did so in part because he knew Crawford’s reputation — and he knew that a jury would likely hammer him harder.
Charged with manufacturing meth while armed with a gun — he had a loaded shotgun when arrested — Kennedy could have gotten up to life in prison. He pleaded guilty to an amended charge and took the maximum sentence of 20 years that went with it.
“My lawyer kind of just told me that was the best deal he could do,” Kenney said.
IS IT FAIR? Some are leery of speed; others welcome it
Corrections Department records show that criminals from Carroll, Grant and Owen counties are locked behind bars in state prisons at nearly twice the rate for the state at large.
To Wells, who resigned in June to go into private practice after a year as public defender representing indigent people charged with felonies in Carroll County, the pace of justice is too swift to let public defenders do right by clients.
“It is hard on such a timeline to properly investigate cases, to line up expert witnesses, to get your ducks in a row,” Wells said. “It can be overwhelming.”
But other defense lawyers say that the system, although fast, is fair, and that Bates will grant more time for any case in which more investigation is needed.
Gatlin said he was given additional time to prepare for an assault case in which his client was acquitted at trial of assaulting a jail officer.
Gatlin said the swift system allows innocent defendants to avoid spending a year or two in jail awaiting trial and allows those who are convicted to move more quickly into state prisons, where there are more educational, recreational and vocational programs than in county jails.
“Defendants don’t like being in the county jail system and not knowing what is going to happen to them,” Gatlin said.
Victims and their families — like Debbie Sherrod, whose son, Joey Woods, 21, was shot to death by Allender in January 2002 — also get to move on more quickly with their lives.
She said she appreciated how Crawford’s office “got the ball rolling” — with Allender convicted and sentenced only eight months after he was indicted.
“I have heard of cases like this going on for two or three years,” she said. “They handled it real well.”