Lincoln hunters now must go to court

September 29, 2004|EMILY BURTON

CRAB ORCHARD - Lincoln County hunters cited by state Fish and Wildlife officers no longer have the option of donating $100 to a private club to stay out of court, a department spokesman Tuesday. But he also says there was nothing illegal about the practice.

"We didn't think it was appropriate to be involved in that sort of diversion practice on the front end," of the law enforcement process, said Mark Marraccini of the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The practice came into question after it was discovered citations were being given with a letter saying a plea of guilty would be accepted by the county attorney's office and a court appearance avoided with a donation of $100 to the Cedar Creek Sportsman's Club.

The accused would also avoid a possible fine. If the accused chose to appear in court instead, there would be the potential of a fine and $145.50 in court costs.


Normally, the county attorney makes a recommendation of a fine or donation to a district court judge, who would then have to sign off on the deal before it could take effect.

Marraccini said such offers of donations in lieu of fines are commonly made from the bench elsewhere in the state. In this instance, County Attorney John Hackley and Wildlife Officer Rick Muse were preemptive, but acting in good faith and in conjunction with the courts, he said.

Hackley insists that nothing illegal has been done in the program, and that the resolution of each case has been approved by a court.

"All cases filed in Kentucky involve a judge," Hackley said, including any dismissals or guilty pleas. A district court judge would have seen the DFW charges on their docket, though the accused would not have had to appear in court, he said.

A statewide program

Accepting donations in lieu of fines is a statewide program approved by the DFW, said Hackley. He had first suggested the Lincoln County arrangement in 2002 at a conference, said Hackley, where it was approved by a higher-up in the DFW.

But the offer has been discontinued, said Marraccini. "To remain above question, any type of settlement or diversion should be made by the judge," he added.

Marraccini also said Muse didn't have the authority to set fines and was only handing out letters on behalf of the county attorney's office.

But there was no illegal activity, said Marraccini. "Everything was on the table, it was all out front," he said. But, "once we thought it through, it just wasn't appropriate."

The letter clearly states that donations are not mandatory and in order to take the option, the bearer must first appear before the county attorney for approval.

The question of propriety comes after two raccoon hunters were caught hunting out of season in August. Court documents show that charges against them were dropped after they made a $100 donation to the club where Muse was a member, reported The Interior-Journal, Stanford's weekly newspaper.

County judge-executive and coonhunter Buckwheat Gilbert said he supported the program and thought it was a good deal for the county. There was nothing illegal going on, Gilbert said.

The Fish and Wildlife Department is currently "reviewing the situation," said Marraccini, with no plans of disciplinary actions against those involved.

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