Thursday, March 01, 2001

Kenton GOP rivals escalate war of words with new charges

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — The Kenton County Republican primary for county prosecutor, which last week featured a battle over allegations of slander, has taken another bitter turn.

        Independence lawyer Eric Deters has accused incumbent Kenton County Attorney Garry Edmondson of poorly handling the legal issues surrounding a payroll tax increase the county fiscal court passed last year.

        “Garry Edmondson may not have a vote to increase taxes,” Mr. Deters said, “but he sure as heck worked his butt off spending county tax dollars to help increase taxes.”

        Mr. Edmondson disputed Mr. Deters' charges, calling them untrue and inaccurate. He is in turn pursuing criminal charges against Mr. Deters' campaign manager — Hayes Robertson, a sergeant on the staff of Kenton County Jailer Terry Carl — for allegedly taking campaign-related phone calls on a jail-house phone.

        “That simply shows the kind of character who is running for a law enforcement office who does not follow or know the law,” Mr. Edmondson said.

        The biting tone is just what political activists and watchers expected from a race featuring two strong, aggressive candidates running in a primary election that is still more than a year away.

        “We know that we are going to have tough primary elections sometimes within our party,” Kenton County GOP Chairman Greg Shumate told his executive committee members last week. “We just need to make sure we can come together and unify as Republicans after those elections are over.”

        The latest spat in the county attorney's race started Tuesday, when Mr. Deters issued a press release attacking Mr. Edmondson for his role in advising the Kenton County Fiscal Court on the payroll tax increase.

        The fiscal court raised the tax in November. During discussions on the increase, Mr. Edmondson advised the court that under a recently passed state law, Kenton County may not have the authority to raise the tax.

        The county commissioners then decided to seek an outside legal opinion. They hired the firm of Brown, Todd and Heyburn.

        The fiscal court ultimately raised the tax. But the increase is being challenged by the city of Covington, businesses and others who have filed suit against the county.

        Mr. Deters claims Mr. Edmondson “recommended and had the county hire an attorney ... to help them raise taxes.”

        Mr. Edmondson said Mr. Deters is “not even close to being right.”

        “I did not tell them to hire another attorney,” Mr. Edmondson said. “I gave a legal opinion, and (the commissioners) sought out another law firm. That is what the county attorney does. He gives advice on legal issues. He does not involve himself with issues of policy.”

        Mr. Edmondson has also asked Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney Bill Crockett to look into possibly charging Sgt. Robertson with a Class D misdemeanor for misusing public property.

        The press release Mr. Deters sent to reporters lists Sgt. Robertson as a media contact along with his phone number in the county jail.

        “That's against the law,” Mr. Edmondson said.

        Mr. Deters took responsibility for the phone number. And both he and Sgt. Robertson said no campaign phone calls are being made on the jail phone.

        Sgt. Robertson is leaving his job at the jail shortly to work on Mr. Deters' campaign full time.

        As county attorney, Mr. Edmondson would normally handle any allegations of a misdemeanor crime. But because the case potentially involves Mr. Edmondson's campaign, he said he will ask Mr. Crockett to investigate.

        A conviction could mean up to six months in jail and a $250 fine. But as of Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Crockett had not received any information about the charges from Mr. Edmondson.

        “If something criminal took place, I'll look at it,” Mr. Crockett said. “But if this is just political volley, I won't. Some things just don't belong in court.”

        Last week, Mr. Deters accused John Middleton, a GOP activist and lawyer in Mr. Edmondson's office, of spreading a rumor that Mr. Deters' late wife, Lisa, died in 1998 of complications related to a sexually transmitted disease.

        Mr. Deters, who said his wife died of cancer, threatened to file a slander suit against Mr. Middleton. Mr. Middleton apologized, and Mr. Deters dropped the suit.


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