After three years of investigation and preliminary court proceedings, former McCracken County Judge-Executive Van Newberry and former Deputy Judge Doug Harnice will stand trial. The defendants are charged with one count each of tampering with public records. If convicted of the Class D felony, the defendants could be subject to up to five years in prison. Newberry and Harnice’s indictment signaled the end of an eight-month investigation into allegations that the two public officials ordered hundreds of changes to county zoning maps without going through the proper, legal documentation including: notification to property owners, public advertisement of the changes, public hearings, and approval documentation from the county planning commission and the county fiscal court. Neither of the defendants took a plea deal offered by the commonwealth in 2014. Local defense attorney, William Kautz, of Edwards & Kautz Law Firm Law Firm in Paducah, KY, says it’s because his clients are innocent: “No agreement was reached, the reason being that Van and Doug have done nothing wrong,” says Kautz. “It’s hard to reach an agreement under those circumstances…I think they’re going to be found not guilty.” The trial date is set for December 14, 2015. The proceedings are estimated to take about three days.
Posted: Monday, November 23, 2015 12:22 AM BY MALLORY [email protected] Former McCracken County Judge-Executive Van Newberry and former Deputy Judge Doug Harnice will stand trial in three weeks after nearly three years of investigations and court proceedings stemming from allegations that they illegally altered county zoning maps. Newberry and Harnice are charged with one count each of tampering with public records and will go to trial in McCracken Circuit Court on Dec. 14. They stand accused of ordering hundreds of changes to county zoning maps in 2007 and 2008 without going through the proper, legal channels. The Class D felony, upon conviction, is punishable by one to five years in prison. The retirement of special prosecutor G.L. Ovey last year pushed an original January trial date back nearly a year. Marion County Commonwealth Attorney Zac Greenwell was appointed to take Ovey’s place and has spent the last 10 months familiarizing himself with the case. Special Circuit Judge Dennis Foust, who was appointed to preside over the case when McCracken County’s two circuit judges recused themselves, said it is common for proceedings to face delays when bringing in so many new faces. “Anytime you have a special judge and a special prosecutor and a change in prosecutors in the middle of the stream it creates a time issue,” he said. “That’s basically what it boils down to.” The commonwealth offered a plea deal in 2014 that the defendants elected not to take, and it is unlikely that another deal will be struck before the trial, according to Foust and defense attorney Will Kautz, who is representing both Newberry and Harnice. The details of the deal were never publicized, and Kautz said that’s because his clients are innocent. “No agreement was reached, the reason being that Van and Doug have done nothing wrong,” he said “It’s hard to reach an agreement under those circumstances.” Newberry said at the time of his indictment in January 2014 that he was surprised by the allegations and believes he did nothing wrong. Kautz said he is still completely confident in his clients’ innocence and believes a jury will agree with him at trial. “I think they’re going to be found not guilty,” he said simply. Kautz added that he has had little contact with his clients since the trial date was set and that he does not anticipate meeting with them again until the trial kicks off. He expects it will last three days, and he does not foresee any issues with seating a jury despite Newberry and Harnice’s prominent prior public positions. Foust echoed Kautz’s opinion regarding the jury. “I don’t think it’ll be a problem, but that remains to be seen,” he said of seating a jury in the pair’s home county. “Nobody has raised that issue. We are certainly going to make every attempt. I don’t see any reason we wouldn’t be able to.” Newberry and Harnice were indicted following a roughly eight-month investigation that originated with the county sheriff’s department and later involved the state attorney general. The matter came to public attention in 2013 when Paducah attorney Burton “Dell” Washburn discovered that property he owned in the county had been rezoned without the required legal notice and government approvals. Upon further investigation, he discovered that more than 500 changes were made to the zoning maps without accompanying legal records. If a zoning change is proposed in county limits it must go through a legal process that includes notifying property owners, publicly advertising the proposed change, holding public hearings and securing approval from the county planning commission and fiscal court. The zoning changes in question occurred shortly after Newberry was elected to his first four-year term. He was re-elected in 2010 and initially planned to file for re-election last year but ultimately did not. He left office at the end of 2014, and Harnice left his position as deputy judge at the same time.
Edwards & Kautz Law Firm have over 60 years of combined experience providing the best personal injury, car wreck, and criminal defense attorneys in Paducah, Kentucky. They serve most of Western Kentucky, as well as the surrounding area. For more information call 270-908-4914.