HINDMAN – Knott County Judge-Executive Randy Thompson and three others convicted of buying votes in the 2006 general election began serving their prison sentences this week, though at present Thompson remains county judge despite his status as a convicted felon.
Thompson reported to a federal prison in Pennsylvania on Thursday, and county officials with his office in Hindman told WYMT-TV that he would not resign from office. According to news reports, in Thompson’s absence, Deputy Judge Greg Mullins now has the authority to approve spending requests after Thompson last week signed an order freezing most county spending.
But there is some question this week as to whether or not officials in Knott County are required under the Constitution of Kentucky to begin proceedings to remove Thompson from office. An attorney general’s opinion from 1997 states: “Under section 150 of the Constitution of Kentucky, a public official who has been convicted of a felony must be removed from office. Bringing an ouster action is the responsibility of the commonwealth attorney as to county officials, and the Attorney General as to other officials.”
A previous opinion, issued in 1983 by then Attorney General Steve Beshear, also notes that a county’s commonwealth’s attorney is responsible for removing convicted felons from office.
“Under the literal wording of the statute, KRS 415.040, it is our opinion that the responsibility for removing a convicted felon from a county office is the commonwealth’s attorney of your county,” the opinion reads.
Knott County Commonwealth’s Attorney Graham Martin was not in his Hindman office on Friday, and was not immediately available for comment.
Shelley Johnson, with Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway's office, reiterated on Friday that the ouster authority for county offices lies with the commonwealth's attorney, but added that the AG's office is looking into "other avenues for removal and whether his (Thompson's) conviction is final."
There is some precedence for removing local officials from office in Kentucky. In 2007, U.S. District Judge Joseph Hood ordered Bath County Judge-Executive Walter Bascom Shrout to resign from office following his conviction in a vote-buying case stemming from the May 2006 primary. According to an Associated Press report, Shrout resigned with a one-sentence letter to then Gov. Ernie Fletcher, noting that he had no choice otherwise.
Thompson is currently the second consecutive judge-executive in Knott County to remain in office while in prison. Former Judge Donnie Newsome remained county judge for the entirety of his sentence for vote buying, only to resign from office once released from prison.
Thompson will serve up to 40 months in prison, while his co-defendants, John Mac Combs, Ronnie Adams, and Phillip Champion, were sentenced to serve 36 months, 32 months, and 18 months respectively.