- Associated Press - Friday, April 18, 2014
Ky. jury says ex-priest should serve 15 years

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A jury says a former Catholic priest stricken with late-stage cancer should serve a 15-year prison sentence for sexually abusing a teenage boy at a Louisville church in the early 1970s.

James Schook’s attorney urged the jury to give the former church leader a more lenient sentence, since the 66-year-old is terminally ill. A judge will make a final determination on Schook’s punishment on May 30.

Attorney David Lambertus said Schook has lived longer than was expected, so he may not have much time left. Lambertus had asked for a sentence that would allow Schook to seek parole in two years.

“If you’re talking about time in someone’s life, I think it’s fair to say how much life is left there?” Lambertus told the jury Thursday morning.

Schook was convicted Wednesday of three counts of sodomy and one count of indecent or immoral practice with another, a felony that has a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison. The sodomy charges ranged from two to five years. The jury declined to convict Schook on a sodomy charge for the alleged abuse of a second teenage boy dating to the mid-1970s.

Prosecutor John Balliet said a 15-year sentence would be “very appropriate.” He told the jury that Schook’s health problems should not factor into punishment for the crimes he committed.

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Ex-AD pleads guilty to stealing from Ky. college

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Former Northern Kentucky University athletic director Scott Eaton pleaded guilty Thursday to stealing more than $300,000 from the school during a six-year scheme that included taking gift cards meant to help feed student-athletes, the state’s attorney general said.

Eaton, 50, who supervised the school’s expansion into Division I athletics, pleaded guilty in Campbell Circuit Court to one count of theft by unlawful taking, Attorney General Jack Conway said. Eaton agreed to serve the maximum term of 10 years in prison and repay $311,215 to the school.

“At a time when higher education institutions are being asked to accomplish more with smaller tuition increases and declining state funding, the unconscionable behavior by Mr. Eaton is completely unacceptable,” Conway said at a press conference at the school in Highland Heights, Ky.

“And I think the punishment fits this crime,” he said.

University President Geoffrey Mearns said the guilty plea “brings closure to an unfortunate but very isolated incident” at the school.

Eaton’s sentencing was set for May 20. He will be eligible for a parole board hearing after serving two years of the sentence.

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Court: Religious jobs exempt from some labor laws

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Religious institutions in Kentucky may hire and fire people from strictly ecclesiastical jobs as they see fit, but could face legal action if an employment contract is involved, the Kentucky Supreme Court rules Thursday.

In two decisions, the justices reinstated lawsuits brought by two former staff members at the Lexington Theological Seminary. In both cases, Chief Justice John D. Minton concluded that the staff members had employment contracts with the school and should be able to pursue litigation over their dismissals, even though one of the men held a position that was primarily religious in nature.

Minton concluded that without the contracts, the seminary would be allowed to dismiss former professors Laurence H. Kant and Jimmy Kirby under what is known as the “ministerial exception” to labor laws. The exception allows religious institutions to make employment decisions based on the institutions beliefs and generally keeps a religious institution from being sued for employment discrimination.

The decisions clarify for the first time the ministerial exception and when it applies in Kentucky and brings the state in line with recent U.S. Supreme Court and federal court rulings on the issue and could impact everything from schools to churches.

“A religious institution may hold beliefs that are discriminatory under a particular anti-discrimination statute and the ministerial exception acts to protect the religious freedom of those institutions no matter how distasteful society may find it or how strong the society interest may be,” Minton wrote.

The decisions came in the cases of Jimmy Kirby, a one-time tenured professor at the seminary who taught Christian social ethics for 15 years, and Laurence H. Kant, who was a tenured professor of religious studies at the seminary. Both men were dismissed in 2009 when the Board of Trustees shrank the size of the faculty because of a souring economy that saw the school’s endowment drop from $25 million to $16 million.

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Ky court disbars attorney serving probation

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - The Kentucky Supreme Court has permanently disbarred a Lexington attorney who is serving probation for theft of his clients’ money.

The justices on Thursday granted 37-year-old Clifford Alan Branham’s request to resign from the Kentucky Bar Association under the terms of permanent disbarment.

Branham previously pleaded guilty to four counts of theft by failure to make required disposition of property. He admitted to taking money, but not doing work for four of his clients. The court also ordered him to pay $241,000 in restitution.

A judge sentenced Branham to eight years in prison, but he was released on shock probation. Branham will remain on probation through March 2019.

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