Violators can donate to Lincoln sportsman's club instead of going to court

September 16, 2004|KATHERINE BELCHER

STANFORD - The Cedar Creek Sportsman's Club has found a creative new way to solicit donations: People ticketed for hunting or fishing violations are given a choice. Go to court - and face the imposition of fines and court costs - or donate $100 to the club.

One of the club's members, Rick Muse, is a boating officer with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. Muse has been enclosing a letter with his citations. It says the tickets could be dismissed by County Attorney John Hackley if the $100 donation is forthcoming.

Although the letter states that the accused is not required to make the donation, the alternative is to plead not guilty and appear in court to fight the charges.

The letter, which has Muse's name and title at the bottom, states: "The County Attorney of Lincoln County has suggested that people charged with offenses such as yours, may make a donation to the Cedar Creek Sportsman's Club in lieu of a portion of the fines they would face, if they want to plead guilty to the offense.


"I would be willing to suggest to the County Attorney that were you to make a donation of $100, that he consider a reduction of the potential fines you face ($100) ... "

The letter also gives the time and place at which the county attorney holds these "informal pre-trials" and asks that anyone who wishes to do so bring proof of the donation, along with the citation and the letter to said place and time.

Muse said he is a current member of the sportsman's club and Hackley said he was a member at one time but isn't sure if his membership is current.

At least two make donation

At least two people charged with illegal taking of wildlife have donated $100 to the club, and their charges were dismissed by Hackley.

William E. Phelps, 58, 750 Colo Grade Rd., Somerset, and Roy Beaty, 12045 North U.S. 27, Eubank, were each charged with hunting raccoons out of season on Aug. 29. The men were stopped by Rick Muse at the end of Parker Road in Waynesburg around 2 a.m., according to court records.

Both Phelps and Beaty were scheduled to appear in Lincoln District Court on Sept. 20, but rather than face a court appearance, the men wrote checks to the sportsman's club for $100. Neither man entered a guilty plea, as the charges were dismissed after the donations were made on Sept. 8.

Records on file at the courthouse contain copies of the checks, the letter seeking the donation and a notation from the county attorney that the charges were dismissed on condition of the donation and no further violations.

District Court Judge Bill Oliver said the county attorney has great discretion in what cases he recommends for dismissal to him and confirmed that if charges are dismissed there is no guilty plea entered in the court record.

Hackley said he has no problem with the arrangement of donations for dismissals and that nothing illegal is going on.

"The donation is going to an organization that assists in eliminating the effect of the crime committed," Hackley said.

"It is rationally related to the crime."

He added that programs such as this go on in Madison, Garrard, Rockcastle and Clark counties.

Muse said he doesn't feel there is anything improper about offering a dismissal of criminal charges for a donation to the club because those accused of a crime have the option to participate or not.

"It's entirely up to the violator - nobody's forcing them to do it, it's their choice," said Muse. "No, I don't feel there's anything wrong with it."

Club approached Hackley

The program began locally a couple of years ago after members of the Cedar Creek Sportman's Club approached Hackley. They told him a similar program was ongoing in Rockcastle County and they wanted to implement one in Lincoln, Hackley said.

After checking the legalities of the program with officials at KDFW, Hackley said he agreed to go along with it and has probably issued somewhere between 8-10 dismissals of hunting/fishing violations for $100 donations to the sportsman's club.

Mark Marraccini, who handles media relations for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said he was not familiar with what was going on but that pre-court diversions of this type are common when someone pleads guilty and pays a fine.

When told that no guilty plea was being entered by the accused because the charges were dismissed, Marraccini said KDFW would have to investigate the matter further.

Scott Furkin, legal counsel for the Administrative Office of the Courts, which oversees the state's pre-trial programs, said he is unaware that dismissals of criminal charges are being granted for donations to a private club and that he too plans to investigate the matter further.

Neither Furkin nor Marraccini could be reached by press time for comment about the status of those investigations.

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