Casey man pleads not guilty to vote buying

November 19, 2004|TODD KLEFFMAN

LIBERTY - A Casey County man accused of using cash and whiskey to buy a vote in a school board election pleaded not guilty Thursday in Casey District Court.

Edgar Joe Ellis is officially charged with making an expenditure to a person to vote/not vote for/against in the Nov. 2 election for the District 1 Board of Education seat, a felony. Kentucky State Police allege that Ellis gave $25 and whiskey to Stella Ann Johnson to vote "a particular candidate," according to the arrest citation.

The citation, however, does not reveal if Ellis was allegedly buying a vote for John Cox, who won the race, or Sheila Elliott, the loser. The case, which is rife with local political intrigue, has created a lot of speculation around the county, said Circuit Court Clerk Craig Overstreet.

"No where in there does it mention any particular name," Overstreet said. "There are a lot of theories out there."


Ellis, 57, of 5427 Ky. 78, declined to comment Thursday, referring questions to attorney Raymond Overstreet, who declined to elaborate.

"I don't think he's accused of buying votes for any particular candidate," the attorney said. "The charge doesn't say who he was working for or against."

County Attorney Tommy Weddle and Commonwealth's Attorney Brian Wright also declined to discuss the matter.

"I would love to tell you, but I haven't been given any information beyond what's in the charge. It will all come out at the preliminary hearing."

Cox comments

One person willing to talk about the case was Cox. Contacted after the hearing Thursday, Cox said it is clear that Ellis was "not working for me." "I didn't know what he was doing, but I knew he was against me," said Cox, who lives about three miles from Ellis on Ky. 78. "It's a pretty close community out here and a lot people told me he was talking against me. All of his property had signs for Sheila Elliott. They're still out there today."

Sheila Elliott could not be reached for comment. The charge against Ellis does not indicate that Sheila Elliott was involved or knew anything the alleged vote-buying incident.

Elliott's husband is Casey District Judge Roger Elliott, who presided over Thursday's arraignment and is scheduled to hear the preliminary hearing on Dec. 7.

"To me, that seems like it might be a conflict of interest," Cox said.

Both Weddle and Raymond Overstreet said they did not plan to ask Elliott to recuse himself from the case.

"Sheila Elliott has not been charged with anything," Weddle said. "I don't feel like I have any responsibility to ask Judge Elliott to recuse himself. I trust Judge Elliott will do the right thing and if there's any reason for him to step aside, he will."

Potential conflict of interest

Weddle also might have a potential conflict of interest in the case. His sister, Linda Hatter, is superintendent of the Casey school system. The politically prominent Weddle family also supported Cox in his bid for the school board seat.

Wright, the Commonwealth's Attorney, said he offered to stand in for Weddle "to avoid the appearance of any possible conflict," but Weddle has not taken the offer so far.

Wright also said part of the reason that Ellis' arrest warrant was sent to Circuit Judge James G. Weddle, a distant relation to Tommy Weddle, rather than District Judge Elliott was because "we were aware of (Shelia Elliott being Judge Elliott's wife) and wanted to avoid any appearance of conflict."

If the judge at next month's preliminary hearing determines there is "probable cause" to proceed with the case against Ellis, it will be forwarded to a Casey County grand jury, which is set to meet Dec. 13. If an indictment is returned, the case would then move to circuit court, where Judge Weddle presides.

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