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Bac Totrong / Bac Totrong/Daily News 

Western Kentucky University president Tim Caboni speaks Thursday, October 11, 2018, during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine Bowling Green. (Bac Totrong/photo@bgdailynews.com)

McConnell: Bevin 'had a good 4 years,' but likely lost

GHENT – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin “had a good four years,” but he said a review of Bevin’s narrow reelection defeat is unlikely to change the outcome.

Bevin trails Democrat Andy Beshear by about 5,000 votes in the Nov. 5 election. A recanvass of votes is scheduled Thursday.

McConnell was in Carroll County on Monday to tout a U.S.-Spain treaty he helped pass that cut taxes for the North American Stainless plant there. McConnell said the treaty helped the company avoid a $35 million tax payment.

McConnell said he’s “sorry Matt came up short.” He said the recanvass is unlikely to change the election results, and that “barring some dramatic reversal on the recanvass, we’ll have a different governor in three weeks.”

Bevin has refused to concede and cited voting irregularities in the governor’s race but has not provided evidence. Some Republican leaders have said Bevin should accept the results of the recanvass if Beshear’s lead holds.

“My first election was almost the same number of votes that Beshear won by. We had a recanvass, added them up, it didn’t change and we all moved on,” McConnell said.

McConnell was asked whether he was concerned about the results of the governor’s race ahead of his own reelection effort next year. Republicans won all the down-ticket races in Kentucky, despite Bevin’s apparent defeat.

“Well, we’ll find out, because the 2020 election is underway already,” McConnell said.

He mentioned an ad aired by Democrat Amy McGrath, who has announced she will run in next year’s U.S. Senate race.

McConnell was also asked about a second potential Democrat challenger, broadcaster Matt Jones, who was pulled off his radio show last week after the state Republican Party filed a complaint alleging Jones was using his show to promote himself. McConnell said his campaign had nothing to do with the Federal Election Commission complaint.

“I’m not going to get into (talking about) the Democratic primary, I’ll be happy to run against whoever wins the nomination,” he said.

Boucher asks U.S. Supreme Court to review sentence reversal
 Justin Story  / 

The attorney for Rene Boucher has requested the U.S. Supreme Court review a lower court’s ruling reversing the 30-day prison sentence Boucher was ordered to serve after pleading guilty to assaulting his neighbor, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.

Attorney Matt Baker on Friday filed with the Supreme Court a petition for a writ of certiorari, a legal term used to define a formal request for the high court to order a lower court to send a case up for review.

Boucher, 61, was ordered in U.S. District Court to serve 30 days in prison, pay a $10,000 fine and perform 100 hours of community service after pleading guilty to assaulting a member of Congress.

Federal prosecutors, who requested a 21-month sentence, appealed the sentence stemming from the 2017 tackle of the Republican senator on his property in Rivergreen subdivision in Bowling Green, arguing that the punishment Special Judge Marianne Battani imposed was too lenient.

Earlier this year, a panel of three judges with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled in favor of the federal government, reversing the 30-day sentence and remanding the case back to Battani for another sentencing hearing.

No date has been set for the resentencing.

The appeals court found that Boucher’s sentence was substantively unreasonable and unjustified in light of the extent of Paul’s injuries from the assault and other factors.

By the time the appeals court issued its ruling, Boucher served his 30-day term in a federal penitentiary in Illinois, paid his fine and completed his community service.

Baker has asked the Supreme Court to consider whether a resentencing hearing violates Boucher’s constitutional rights entitling him to due process under the law and protecting him against double jeopardy.

“Here, (Boucher) has served every bit of a perfectly legal sentence,” Baker said in the petition. “He now faces the horrifying prospect of having to go back to prison to serve an additional sentence for the very same offense to which he pled guilty and accepted his punishment. This is simply intolerable by anyone’s standards of the application of double jeopardy and fundamental principles of due process.”

The petition envisions a scenario in which Boucher is sentenced to a longer term in prison, then the government files another appeal in an attempt to obtain a still harsher punishment, putting Boucher “through the same rigamarole all over again.”

Plea agreements in criminal cases typically include language stating that the defendant gives up their right to appeal when they plead guilty.

Baker argues that the plea agreement in Boucher’s case held that Boucher explicitly gave up his right to appeal, and the government implicitly waived its appeal rights as well.

The plea agreement stated the sentence the government would recommend for Boucher while also allowing for Boucher to argue for any sentence within the range permitted by law for an assault conviction, and both sides should have been legally bound by Battani’s ruling, Baker said.

“A mulligan is sometimes allowed in a game of golf, but it should never, never, ever be permitted when a person’s liberty is at stake – even when the victim is a United States Senator,” Baker said in the petition. “This is about ‘a deal is a deal.’ It’s about fair play. And it’s about square corners. When the government says to the defendant: ‘These are the rules ... ,” the government should not be permitted to change the rules after the game is over to get a second chance at the result it desires.”

Baker argues that the Supreme Court should also take up the case to resolve a split among federal circuit courts on the issue of whether the government waives its appeal rights as part of a plea agreement.

In the petition, Baker cites a 1991 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit that dismissed an appeal by the government after a woman who pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering was sentenced to 28 months in prison.

The 4th Circuit held that the government waived its appeal rights in that case, a ruling that appears at odds with the 6th Circuit’s ruling against Boucher.

Supreme Court rules hold that four of the nine sitting justices must vote to accept a case for review.

Each one-year term, which begins in October, about 7,000 to 8,000 new cases are filed, according to information on the Supreme Court’s website.

Plenary review, involving oral arguments by the attorneys before the Supreme Court justices, is granted in a small portion of those cases.

For the most recently completed term of the court, which ended last month, 72 opinions were released, according to information from SCOTUSblog, a website that tracks the Supreme Court.

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

WKU leaders say university can withstand 1,200 drop in fall enrollment
 Aaron Mudd  / 

Western Kentucky University has nearly 1,300 fewer students this fall compared to the same time last year, enrollment numbers released Thursday show.

The data from WKU’s Office of Institutional Research show total enrollment has fallen to 18,183, which is down from 19,461 students in fall 2018.

Overall, it amounts to a roughly 6 percent enrollment decline from last year and continues a downward trend in total enrollment at the university in recent years. In the past 10 years, WKU’s total enrollment peaked at 21,124 students in 2012 before gradually dropping to this new level.

When considering only full-time equivalent students, WKU enrollment fell from 15,306 students last fall to 14,455 this fall.

Despite the decline, university leaders don’t seem stressed. In a campuswide message Thursday that touched on the enrollment numbers, WKU President Timothy Caboni wrote that he doesn’t foresee the decline affecting the university’s budget.

“Our revenue is tracking with our projections, and we anticipate no further changes to the budget,” Caboni wrote.

Kentucky is seeing fewer high school graduates and fewer of them are going to college, Caboni wrote, adding that there are also fewer international students – who pay a much higher tuition rate than in-state students.

Because of that, Caboni and university officials said WKU has focused more on the types of students it recruits and retaining them past their freshman year.

WKU is increasingly looking outside Kentucky to recruit students from Indiana, Tennessee and Georgia, and it recently announced changes to its scholarship offerings.

Beginning next fall, WKU will no longer use ACT scores to award most of its academic merit-based and targeted scholarships for incoming freshmen. The university will also expand offers to high school students with an unweighted 3.0 grade-point average, meaning that WKU applicants who meet that bar will automatically qualify for a $2,500 scholarship.

WKU has also raised its admissions standards in hopes of seeking out more academically prepared students who have a better chance of graduating.

“We’re admitting students that we know can be successful,” said Brian Kuster, WKU’s vice president for enrollment and student experience.

When it comes to college cost – which Kuster described as the biggest hurdle students face – he said WKU is doing more to help students. That includes working with students to set up payment plans, lifting registration holds for overdue fees and even distributing small grants to students who owed less than $500.

“We’re recruiting students who have a better chance of succeeding. We’re providing more resources for those students so they can succeed, and we’re removing the barriers that were causing them not to succeed,” WKU spokesman Bob Skipper told the Daily News.

“All of that together should, and is, improving our retention. It will improve our graduation rates, which also positions us better in the state funding model,” he said, referencing a performance funding system that ties state funding for universities to outcomes, like graduation rate. “That will eventually result in us getting a better share of state funding.”

On Monday, WKU hosted about 1,200 high school students to participate in campus tours and information sessions about attending.

Among them was Emma Wilson, a high school junior from northeastern Tennessee, which makes her one of the out-of-state students WKU is pursuing.

When Wilson describes what she’s looking for in a college, the most important factor is how “homey” it feels, she said. It has to feel not too big and more “like a community.”

“You have to feel a connection to the campus itself,” she said.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

'A family reunion': VFW hosts annual Veterans Day event
 Will Whaley  / 

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1298 hosted its annual Veterans Day program Monday, but it was more than just a time to share a meal.

It was a time for veterans to come together in what Warren County Sheriff Brett Hightower, the program’s speaker, called a “family reunion.”

Hightower served initially in the U.S. Marine Corps and later the Kentucky Army National Guard after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Hightower began his remarks reading the oath of service taken by those enlisted in the military.

“We can all take ourselves back to that place in time when you raised your hand and said those exact same words,” Hightower said. “For many of us, that was many years ago, but so many men and women have done that in these great United States.

“I was looking at some numbers. ... We had over 1 million men enlist in 1941. That was after we came under attack. They knew what was going to happen. They decided they would stand for truth and justice ... and go to battle.”

Hightower talked about the 9/11 attacks having a similar draw to have many enlist in the military.

“I can remember exactly where I was that day, working for the city,” the former Bowling Green Police Department officer said. “I was actually in training and we saw on break that the first plane had already hit. ... We knew that it wasn’t an accident. That night, I went home and I sat with my wife. We already had our oldest child, and we had been talking about expanding our family. We asked if it was the time to extend our family.

“I knew I had already been on one deployment, and I knew it was going to be something different,” Hightower said. “I knew we were going to be at war. We decided we were not going to let some terrorist keep our family from growing. We were going to do better than that.”

Hightower said his second daughter was born Sept. 24, 2002. He deployed to Bosnia three weeks later, where he spent nine months.

“I missed the first year of my daughter’s life. I don’t say that to highlight myself, but how many guys in here went through the same exact thing?” Hightower asked the audience.

Hightower also acknowledged the spouses that stayed behind during deployment.

“You all cut the grass, paid the bills, took care of the kids. If it wasn’t for you all we couldn’t have done our jobs. What a beautiful sight that was when we flew in to Warren County. We looked down at our county and we were met by our loved ones,” Hightower said.

The sheriff then reflected on those veterans who were killed in war.

“I know this is Veterans Day, but I can’t stop and have Veterans Day without thinking about Memorial Day. Rob Henderson ... he gave his life for this country,” Hightower said, holding back tears. “As we go forward we have to think about those trials and tribulations and we continue on. We do what we are supposed to do when we are called to duty. I was deployed. I was injured overseas as well. Things happen, but I want to thank you all today for serving this great country. It is emotional for me today because there’s so many I’ve been there with. We may at times disagree around the election polls, but let us never disagree around the flag pole.”

Hightower said he had served with many people in the program’s audience.

“I spent a lot of hours and days with these folks. ... It wasn’t just one deployment ... a lot of us went on multiple deployments and there’s a lot of emotion with that,” he said.

Hightower said he wanted his message to convey the sacrifice that veterans make to serve.

“A lot of times, people come up and say ‘Thank you for your service,’ but there’s also another side of that, which is a great sacrifice,” Hightower said. “We don’t need to cloud that for the next generation. There’s a great sacrifice when it comes to serving your country and leaving families and loved ones behind and not really knowing what you’re signing up for.

“Today might be a completely different climate than next year. There’s always a different battle. So many different wars have come along, and we don’t know what is coming around the next corner. When you take that oath you’re really signing yourself up for a blank check that you don’t know what the actual cost will be ... we appreciate that.”

VFW Post 1298 Cmdr. Glenn Skaggs Jr. said: “This is to thank every man or woman who had the courage to don a uniform and serve their country. We are here to honor them today, do this meal and give them thanks. We honor every branch. This is the 101st anniversary of which was originally Armistice Day, which was later changed to Veterans Day. We do this every year at the 11th month, on the 11th day and at the 11th hour when the treaty was signed to end the Great War, World War I.”

Skaggs said the program was a chance for veterans to reconnect.

“It is a good time for comrades to get together,” he said. “For some, it may be the only time these people get to see each other. We have worked with one of the nursing homes and brought some of the veterans in that might not get to celebrate.”

The camaraderie is also personally important to Skaggs.

“I have one biological brother, but I have many brothers and sisters that I served with,” Skaggs said. “I served over 28 years. That’s what Veterans Day means to me ... the camaraderie.”

– Follow Daily News reporter Will Whaley on Twitter @Will_Whaley_ or visit bgdailynews.com.