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Kentucky Lawmakers Vote To Impeach State Agriculture Commissioner

January 25, 1991 GMT

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) _ The House voted unanimously today to impeach Kentucky’s agriculture commissioner, six days after he began serving a one-year sentence for a payroll violation.

The Senate was expected to meet on Feb. 5 to decide whether to remove Ward ″Butch″ Burnette from office.

The House voted 97-0 to impeach Burnette, a 49-year-old Democrat elected commissioner in 1987. It is only the third time in Kentucky history that a vote for impeachment has been recorded in the state.

Since Saturday, Burnette has been at Franklin County Jail across from the state General Assembly.

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A year ago, a jury convicted him of theft for putting a new secretary on his department payroll 20 days before she actually began work. The extra money went to the secretary, Linda Campbell, who was convicted of the same charge.

The Kentucky Supreme Court turned down Burnette’s third appeal last week, denied his request for a rehearing and refused to order his continued freedom while his lawyer prepares a federal appeal.

Burnette claimed the secretary worked during the disputed 20 days. The secretary had worked on the campaign of another Democrat before she was hired by Burnette.

Burnette was convicted of theft again last May for billing the state for charter flights he took before he entered office. He was fined $5,000 in that case, which was under review by the intermediate state Court of Appeals.

Burnette and his attorneys have long questioned the fairness of his trial and challenged the integrity of the chief prosecution witness. But the General Assembly has thus far declined to look into anything beyond the court record of Burnette’s case.

Kentucky’s 100-year-old constitution prohibits felons from holding office, but makes no provision other than impeachment for their removal.

It has been 103 years since a statewide officeholder was removed. That was state Treasurer James W. ″Honest Dick″ Tate, who emptied the state vault of $247,000 in 1888 and vanished without a trace. He was impeached and convicted in absentia.