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Public Advocacy office expanding to meet demand
 Don Sergent  / 

The explosive growth in the caseload for the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy’s Warren County office has led to growth in the department’s headquarters in the Warren County Justice Center.

Warren Fiscal Court in January approved $17,500 for C&P Construction to renovate the former offices of U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie on the third floor of the Justice Center on Center Street.

That work is nearly complete, and it will give the public advocacy office’s attorneys and investigators the room they need to handle a caseload that is among the highest of the state’s 33 public advocacy offices.

The Warren County public advocacy office provides legal representation for indigent people accused of crimes in Allen, Butler, Edmonson, Simpson and Warren counties.

“This region is growing, and that means our caseload keeps going up,” said James Rhorer, directing attorney for the Warren County office. “We have one of the highest caseloads per attorney in the state.”

Rhorer said his office has 12 attorneys, two investigators and two alternative sentencing workers. It has been approved for a 13th attorney because of the caseload growth.

“Anything that carries jail time in those five counties, we can be appointed,” Rhorer said. “The caseload keeps going up, and we don’t have enough space in our current offices. It was absolutely imperative that we expand.”

He said the Warren County office will average about 530 cases per attorney in a typical year, making it one of the busiest in the state.

Rhorer said the public advocacy office was next door to Guthrie’s Bowling Green office until about three years ago, when Guthrie’s office moved to Wilkinson Trace.

“It’s space that hadn’t been used for a few years,” Rhorer said. “It has been remodeled to suit our needs.”

Rhorer said his office “had people working in the hallways” as its workload and staff grew.

He’s looking forward to the larger quarters.

“We’ll be able to get people out of the hallways,” he said. “They’re still doing some final touches and moving some furniture in. In two or three weeks it should be 100 percent completed.”

Rhorer said Warren Fiscal Court will be reimbursed by the state Department of Public Advocacy for the cost of remodeling the extra office space.

Dem infighting threatens party's chances against Trump

MANCHESTER, N.H. – Democratic leaders have edged toward the brink of open war with one another in recent days after a series of jarring setbacks that could jeopardize the party’s chances against President Donald Trump, who continues to solidify his iron-fisted control over the Republican election apparatus.

The infighting focuses largely on the failed caucus process in Iowa, with state and national Democratic leaders at odds over who deserves blame, as well as an increasingly bitter dispute over the rules governing who gets into future nationally televised candidate debates – a process that could allow billionaire Mike Bloomberg to make the stage later this month.

In a particularly stark sign, supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have returned to bashing the Democratic National Committee, reviving grievances from the divisive 2016 primary race. In that campaign, Sanders’ supporters said the system had been stacked against the democratic socialist – a view later affirmed when WikiLeaks released hacked internal emails – and supporters of nominee Hillary Clinton blamed Sanders for not sufficiently rallying his base on Clinton’s behalf in the general election, when she lost to Trump.

Sanders’ supporters are again charging that the DNC is maneuvering to thwart his anti-establishment movement. They claim the DNC’s decision last week to call for a full recanvass in Iowa threatened to undercut Sanders’ ability to claim momentum from winning the popular vote there, and they said changing the rules to benefit Bloomberg reflects the desire among the party elite for a savior to deny Sanders the nomination.

“They can shout unity all they want, but the actions show otherwise,” said Nina Turner, a national co-chairman of the Sanders campaign.

The brew of resentment and anxiety represents a sharp turn for a presidential primary race that began last year with a historically diverse field and intense optimism that Democrats could harness the same energy that helped them win big in 2018.

Party unity is now breaking down just as voters express rising concerns that none of the remaining candidates is fully equipped to take on an incumbent president who regularly scoffs at political norms.

Like Iowans, many of whom remained undecided until the last moment before their caucuses, about a third of New Hampshire voters remain undecided, with Sanders and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg appearing to have momentum before the Tuesday primary. The longtime national polling leader, Joe Biden, who many Democrats hoped would unify the party and pose the greatest threat to Trump, posted a disappointing finish in Iowa and has been sliding in New Hampshire.

The party’s internal strife now looms over the Tuesday vote here as well as additional primaries set for the coming weeks.

Advisers to the two men most responsible for overseeing the disastrous Iowa caucuses, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price, have been privately deflecting blame onto each other as the relationship between the two has become tense, advisers said. Price has refused to join Perez in calling for a recanvass of voting records in the state after finding out about Perez’s demand from a deputy a few minutes before it was tweeted, people familiar with their communication said.

Price allies blame Perez for the botched caucus count, pointing to new party rules he implemented around transparency and accessibility that increased the burdens on the state. They also point to confusion over whether a cybersecurity team sent by Perez fully reviewed the technology that failed on caucus night.

“Ultimately this is the national chairman’s mess,” said former U.S. Rep. Dave Nagle, who planned the 2020 caucuses with Price and now refers to Perez with the nickname “Pontius Pilate.” “He is the one who asked us to do it. We tried to do it. We got bushwhacked by a bad system, and now we are trying to clean up.”

In response, aides to Perez, who was not in Iowa for the caucuses, have maintained that the state party was ultimately responsible for administering the caucuses, choosing a technology vendor and making sure the technology worked. The DNC hired experts, they said, to review the cybersecurity of the technology but not the functionality of the software.

“I am not Troy Price’s boss, so it is not our role to micromanage every element of the administration of elections,” Perez said in an interview Sunday when asked about the DNC’s responsibility for the Iowa failures. “Every state party has its own process.”

Perez did not appear in the spin room after Friday’s New Hampshire debate, and he skipped a speaking slot Saturday in Manchester at a state party fundraiser because of a conflicting, and previously scheduled, appointment to meet with governors in Washington, his aides said.

From the moment he took the job as party chairman, Perez has said he is more focused on beating Trump than expanding “my holiday card list.” The party he inherited was a skeletal operation, gutted and demoralized after Clinton’s 2016 loss and the scandal sparked by leaked internal party emails, which the intelligence community blamed on the Russian government.

Perez moved quickly to remake the nominating process, forcing more regulation of states that host caucuses, investing heavily in technology security efforts and eliminating any chance of a decisive vote by party insiders on the first ballot at the nominating convention, a concession to Sanders supporters who wanted the process to more directly reflect the popular vote.

At the start of the campaign, Sanders advisers repeatedly praised Perez, encouraging party leaders who are wary of the enormous funding advantages of the Republican National Committee, which has raised $194 million in the current election cycle compared with $76 million by the DNC, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

But that tone shifted in recent weeks as Sanders surrogates, supporters and staffers have criticized Perez for changing the debate rules and for the appointees he has placed on the various convention committees.

Perez announced last month that he would allow candidates to make the debate stage in late February if they met either a polling threshold or won national party delegates in Iowa or New Hampshire. Perez dropped a requirement that forced candidates to attract thousands of grass-roots donors, which Bloomberg would not meet since he does not accept donations.

A former New York mayor, Bloomberg gave more than $1.5 million to the national and state parties in the final months of last year, according to federal election records. He so far has collected only one of the four 10 percent polls he needs to qualify for the Las Vegas debate Feb. 19.

Perez said the rule change was not made to benefit any single candidate.

“Our job at every debate is to identify through the most relevant measures who are the most viable candidates who should be on the debate stage,” he said when asked why he dropped the donor requirement. “The polling is now more probative because people are paying attention.”

Sanders has been blunt in his condemnation of the move. “I think it is an outrage,” he told reporters Thursday. “I guess if you’re worth $55 billion, you can get the rules changed.”

One top Sanders aide warned that the rule change could hurt party enthusiasm.

“The question is, are working people going to turn against the Democratic Party because there is a billionaire who is himself able to get on the debate stage because he got special treatment?” Sanders senior adviser Jeff Weaver said.

Biden joined in the criticism of Perez for changing the debate qualification rules in a way that could allow Bloomberg onto the stage.

“The rules seem to be changing a little bit,” he said at a Saturday campaign stop, noting that other candidates had tried to change them. “If I’m Julián Castro or I’m a couple other guys – they didn’t change the rules to allow me to stay on the debate stage. But now the rules get change to put someone else on the debate stage?”

Other Democratic insiders have tried to paint the Sanders campaign’s complaints as politically expedient. Along with other candidates, they said, the Sanders campaign supported a change to the debate rules in December that would have allowed candidates to qualify with either polling or donors, as part of an effort to allow Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., to join the Jan. 14 debate. That change, which Perez did not accept, would also have cleared the path for Bloomberg.

The Sanders campaign was also alarmed when Perez decided last month to name his allotted appointments to the standing committees for the party’s national nominating convention, set for this summer in Milwaukee. Previous party chairmen have made similar appointments, which make up a minority of the full committee membership.

“The deck is stacked against fairness,” Turner said of the committee appointments. “And not only stacked against Senator Sanders, but it’s stacked against any candidate who is not entrenched in the elite section of the Democratic Party. And the sad thing about it is Chairman Perez knows this.”

Weaver has tried to strike a less aggressive tone, saying that the Sanders campaign still believes Perez has tried to be evenhanded.

“Of course, given our experience, we are ever vigilant,” he said.

Several national committee members were upset earlier this year when word spread that the budget committee had approved transition payments equal to four months of salary for Perez and his top deputies. The funds were intended to assure that Perez and his deputies had time to work with their successors in 2021, or this year if the party nominee calls for new leadership before the election.

“This is not a Tom thing. This is a business thing,” said Dan Halpern, budget committee chairman. “This is an effort to make sure that the DNC is a going concern.”

Perez and his team quickly distanced themselves from the effort. “One hundred percent of our resources are going toward beating Donald Trump,” said Xochitl Hinojosa, DNC communications director. “DNC leadership will not accept any extra compensation recommended by the budget committee, which didn’t operate at the direction of DNC leadership.”

The next logistical test for Perez will come Feb. 22, when Nevada Democrats hold the second major caucus of the process. The state party has scrapped plans to use a similar app to the one that performed so poorly in Iowa, but a computer system is still expected to be employed to collate early voting results. As in Iowa, the Nevada state party has primary responsibility over the process, Perez said.

“Our goal is we want to make sure that we have a caucus that is as low tech as humanly possible while still being efficient,” Perez said. “We are working with them and we are coordinating with them.”

Sanders, meanwhile, has put a bit more of an anti-establishment edge on his speeches this weekend, perhaps aimed at the independent voters who can participate in the New Hampshire primary, many of whom are skeptical of Democratic Party leadership and other institutions.

“We’re taking on not just the whole Republican political establishment,” Sanders said, “we’re taking on the Democratic establishment.”

When Sanders said the Democratic establishment was getting nervous, the applause was louder.

Voters have increasingly brought up complaints about the national party on the campaign trail, especially at Sanders’ events. After the Iowa caucuses, Jared Saunders, 43, drove from Massachusetts to Derry, N.H., where he raised his anxieties with Sanders directly during a town hall meeting about the recent appointment of standing committee members.

Sanders encouraged supporters to channel their nervous energy into voting for him. “What we can do right now is make sure we have the largest voter turnout in the history of New Hampshire,” he said, drawing applause from the crowd. “The truth is that the nominee will have enormous power over those committees, OK?”

The candidate’s response did not quell Saunders’ concerns. “The DNC rigged it in 2016, and it’s doing it again,” he said after the event.

– The Washington Post’s Matt Viser and David Weigel in New Hampshire and Isaac Stanley-Becker in Washington contributed to this report.

Elise Amendola 

Democratic presidential candidate former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, hosted by ABC News, Apple News, and WMUR-TV at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

10 questions with Ryan Dearbone

Current job title: Assistant director of college advancement at Western Kentucky University.

Hometown: Hopkinsville.

Family: Wife, Bonita; daughter, Echo; and dog, Betsy Jo.

One thing no one knows about me is ... I like to watch soap operas.

My dream job is ... it used to be to be a reporter on NBC or ESPN when I was a kid, but now it’s anything that fulfills my desire to help others and make a difference.

My first job was ... at Martin Five Movie Theater in Hopkinsville, and it’s still one of my favorite jobs I’ve ever had.

The best advice I ever got was ... I’ve gotten so much good advice from many people over the years, but I guess the best I’ve gotten is “treat others the way you want to be treated” and to “always bet on yourself.”

My hero and why is ... my mom. She was a strong woman who taught me so much and raised me to respect others, love God and love myself. She was truly my best friend and an example of how to live a good life.

If I could it all over again I would ... have taken up distance running when I was in my teens.

The part of my job I could do without is ... I like all the aspects of my job, so I really can’t answer that one.

The one thing I always carry with me is ... a ring that I bought my mom years ago that has her name engraved on it. She used to wear all of the time. Now I wear it on my pinky finger in memory of her.

The best meal I have ever had ... I can’t think of the best meal I ever had, but I’m a huge fan of Chinese food. So since that’s my favorite thing to eat, I’ll make it the best meal I’ve ever had.

At the top of my bucket list ... To attend my personal Big 5 of sporting events: the Olympics, NBA Finals, Super Bowl, World Series and WrestleMania.

Ryan Dearbone

Sheriff's office to resume checkpoints
 Justin Story  / 

The Warren County Sheriff’s Office will aim to increase safe driving when the department conducts traffic safety checkpoints this month.

Checkpoints will be done throughout the year at various locations, with the first from 5 to 9 p.m. Feb. 21 on Morgantown Road at the Hadley One Stop.

Two fatal road crashes occurred in the county in January, including one on Morgantown Road, and Warren County Sheriff Brett Hightower hopes the checkpoints will benefit motorists.

“The idea is to get some visibility,” Hightower said. “We repeatedly tell people to slow down and watch their speed, and part of (the checkpoints) is also ensuring people aren’t under the influence as well.”

Safety checkpoints and other enforcement methods involving high officer visibility have been recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as effective tools for reducing impaired driving and the likelihood of injuries and fatalities on the road.

NHTSA data show traffic fatalities in Kentucky decreased from 834 in 2016 to 782 the following year and 724 in 2018.

Hightower said the dates of subsequent checkpoints are to be determined, but they will be concentrated in areas of the county prone to crashes.

“We have to look at where it is that we’ve had increased accidents with injuries or fatalities and where it is that we can safely orchestrate one of these particular checkpoints,” Hightower said. “We will get people off the roadway if we suspect somebody is under the influence ... It’s important that we take into consideration each and every day that collectively we can make a difference by slowing down and being better drivers.”

– Follow courts reporter Justin Story on Twitter @jstorydailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.