COVINGTON, Ky - The Kentucky Attorney General said Tuesday that Covington County Commissioner Michelle Williams is “qualified to hold office,’’ despite the fact that she’s been convicted of several crimes.
Williams, 44, has been convicted of theft, use/possession of drug paraphernalia, disorderly conduct and assault – all misdemeanor crimes. The Kentucky Constitution restricts convicted felons, or those charged with “high misdemeanors,” from holding public office.
In a letter to Kenton County Attorney Garry Edmonson, Attorney General Jack Conway’s office said because Williams was never convicted of a felony, she could maintain her seat as a commissioner.
“I am disappointed that he refuses to take action and I know that the citizens of Covington are appalled that he won't act,” said Edmonson of the decision.
Williams was convicted of crimes from 2008 to 2010. She was elected to the Kenton County Commissioners in 2012.
The issue came to light earlier this summer when someone tipped the Covington City Solicitor that one of the commissioners had a criminal record. After an investigation, Edmondson recommended to the Attorney General that she immediately vacate office citing her convictions of “high misdemeanors.”
“Considering the multiple high misdemeanors of which Ms. Williams has been convicted here in the Commonwealth, the military bad conduct discharge, and her additional criminal history, it is my opinion in the capacity of Kenton County Attorney and advisor to the Kenton County Board of Elections the Kentucky Constitution does not permit Ms. Williams to continue to serve in her office as Covington Commissioner," he wrote in the recommendation. “Indeed, it is my opinion the office is vacated immediately as a matter of law. I further believe it is the duty of the Covington City Commission to appoint a replacement Commissioner, pursuant to statute for a vacated office, without delay.”
Calls to Williams were not immediately returned Tuesday.
Since there is no legal definition of what a "high misdemeanor" is, the Office of the Attorney General made the decision based on the information that they had.
“While the definition of a felony is well established under Kentucky law as ‘any crime punishable by a term in prison of more than one year,’ the Kentucky General Assembly has never undertaken the task of prescribing specifically what a “high misdemeanor” is,” stated Edmondson in his recommendation to the Office of the Attorney General.
“Because of that, the courts have often referenced a more ancient phrase equating “high misdemeanor” as being a crime that involves ‘moral turpitude.’ Often, a crime involving moral turpitude was thought of as one immoral in itself, irrespective of the fact that it is punished by the law.”
Edmondson argued in his recommendation that Williams’ convictions involved “moral turpitude.”
“It is my opinion Ms. Williams’ three Class A misdemeanor convictions unquestionably involve the sort of “high misdemeanors” to which Section 150 of the Kentucky Constitution refers, in that each specifically implicates the traditional and historical understanding of “moral turpitude” discussed herein,” stated Edmondson in his recommendation.
Further review of her record revealed that Williams also appeared before a military General Court Martial where she was discharged for bad conduct from the US Army, which she served in from 1987-1990.
“It should be noted that military courts martial are typically reserved for the most serious of offenses, including specifically those crimes that would be considered felonies if they were tried in civilian courts,” he said.
Williams’s background was not researched prior to running for office. To date, Covington Mayor Sherry Carran said that Covington has no background-checking policy for those candidates listed on the ballot.