Saturday, June 02, 2001

Good cause found to be no excuse in ethics case

Ky. Court of Appeals overturns state official's victory

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Court of Appeals on Friday said a state official broke an ethics code by soliciting money from people doing business with her agency, even though it was for a “worthwhile and salutary cause” — Christmas gifts for foster children.

        Likewise, foster children who needed dental work were improperly steered to a dentist who was her son-in-law, the court said.

        It overturned a lower court's ruling that the solicitation did not violate the ethics law for state employees because it amounted to “acts of human kindness,” not personal advantage or profiteering.

        The case pitted the Executive Branch Ethics Commission against Suzanne Pardue, who headed the Department for Social Services office in Scottsville. Part of her job was to authorize payment for care and support of foster children.

        The commission investigated and concluded that Ms. Pardue had used her position and influence in ways that created a conflict of interest. The commission gave her a public reprimand and a $1,000 fine.

        Ms. Pardue appealed to Allen Circuit Court, where Judge William R. Harris said the commission inexplicably “perceives some evil in what strikes the court as a noble attempt by Pardue to better the lives of foster children.”

        Judge Harris said he did not believe the General Assembly intended to prohibit what Ms. Pardue had done. The appeals court said Judge Harris misinterpreted the ethics law.

        Writing for a three-judge panel, Judge Julia Tackett said it was “undisputed that the object of Pardue's activities, the welfare of foster children, is a worthwhile and salutary cause.”

        “Nevertheless, the ethics code serves to prevent apparent as well as actual conflicts of interest regardless of the motives involved,” Judge Tackett wrote.

        Her opinion cited the hearing officer's finding that a government's solicitation of money from its contractors “is antithetical to the public interest.”

        As for dental work, Ms. Pardue did not order anyone to patronize her son-in-law but “approved and influenced her subordinates” to take foster children to him, even though there were other dentists who accepted Medicaid patients, the court said.

        Because Ms. Pardue was the boss, some employees testified that they were reluctant to question the practice, the opinion said. Judge Tom Emberton of Edmonton and Special Judge Mary Corey joined in the opinion by Judge Tackett, of Lexington.


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