Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Judge recuses in Patton lawsuit

Attorney points out possible interest conflict

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - With the recusal Monday of the judge initially assigned to hear the sexual harassment suit against Gov. Paul Patton, lawyers expect an extended time in court.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Denise Clayton in Louisville took herself off the case at the request of the attorney for Tina Conner, the western Kentucky nursing home operator with whom Mr. Patton had a two-year sexual relationship.

Fred Radolovich pointed out Judge Clayton was appointed to the bench in October 2000, after Mr. Patton became governor. Judge Clayton said she understood some may view the appointment as a conflict of interest.

Court administrators will select a new judge to hear the case this week. That judge will face motions to move the entire matter to the state capital in Franklin County, and motions to dismiss all or parts of the case.

Ms. Conner alleges she got special treatment from state government during her affair with Mr. Patton starting in 1997. While she said the physical relationship existed for two years, she said she kept in contact with Mr. Patton until October 2001, when she cut off communications. Shortly after, Ms. Conner alleges regulators from the Cabinet for Health Services were sent to Birchtree Healthcare in Clinton, which subsequently was found to have serious health and safety violations, lost Medicare and Medicaid funding and filed for bankruptcy protection.

"Anyone who assumes this case is going to be decided quickly doesn't understand how slow the American litigation process is," Patton lawyer Sheryl Snyder said after the brief hearing.

Meanwhile, investigators with the FBI, U.S. Attorney's Office in Lexington and the Attorney General's Office also continued their investigation.

The Associated Press' Dylan T. Lovan in Louisville contributed to this report.

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