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Case against Newberry, Harnice faces delays

BY CORIANNE EGAN cegan@paducahsun.com

The case against McCracken County Judge-Executive Van Newberry and Deputy Judge-Executive Doug Harnice, which was once expected to have an early resolution, now may stretch into the fall and winter months.

Newberry and Harnice were in McCracken County Circuit Court for a pretrial conference Friday morning related to charges of tampering with public records. The defense originally asked for the court date to be continued, but Special Judge Dennis Foust brought the group together to discuss logistics and bring him up to speed.

The pair are accused of altering the county's zoning maps without using the proper protocol. An investigation has pinpointed hundreds of property lines that were changed between 2007 and 2008, all without approval of the McCracken County Fiscal Court. Newberry and Harnice deny the charges, saying that they both suggested changes to fix an improper map drawn by the city, but they did nothing illegal.

They were arraigned in January and pleaded not guilty to the Class D felony, which upon conviction is punishable by one to five years in prison.

When the original indictment was handed down, Newberry said he would like an expedient trial that would be over by the spring or summer. Instead, on Friday, both parties agreed to a two-month continuance in the pretrial hearing and discussed a three- to four-day trial in late fall or early winter. There is also the possibility a settlement could be reached, Will Kautz, attorney for Newberry, noted.

"(Doing this quickly) sounded like a good idea at the time, but the complexity of the case has changed that," Kautz said. "It has become clear that we cannot defend this case in short order, and the commonwealth attorney cannot present a case in short order."

David Bundrick, attorney for Doug Harnice, said that maps and documents from special prosecutor G.L. Ovey's investigation form a stack on his desk that is nearly eight inches thick and will take time to review.

The delays could allow the charges to stick around through election season.

"We are very aware of the election calendar, but we would rather take the time to do this right," Bundrick said.

Newberry is registered as an Independent in November's election. He has not filed his intention to run in 2014 with the clerk's office as of Friday. By law, Independent candidates must file a statement of candidacy by April 1, then provide a petition with 100 valid signatures by Aug. 12. 

Newberry and Harnice are due back in court for their next pretrial conference on May 30.

Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.

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