Appeals court rules with Grimes over seizure of computer

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - The Kentucky Court of Appeals has handed a victory to Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes in her legal battle over the seizure of a computer from her office by an independent counsel looking into allegations of misconduct against her.

A three-judge panel on Wednesday denied a petition for a writ of prohibition sought by Garrard County Attorney Mark Metcalf, who was named as independent counsel by Attorney General Andy Beshear to investigate allegations against Grimes made by Jared Dearing, Executive Director of the State Board of Elections, claiming she inappropriately and illegally used the Kentucky Voter Registration System, or VRS.

The court case began when the computer used by Stephen Spisak, who was responsible for creating the VRS in Grimes’ office, was seized without a warrant by Kentucky State Police at the direction of Metcalf on September 17. Grimes objected to the warrantless seizure, but the KSP said the computer was state property. It was returned on September 23, and troopers also produced a search warrant dated September 20, three days after the seizure.

In early October, Grimes filed a complaint to halt the Attorney General from seizing property of a Constitutional Officer without a search warrant.

On Oct. 14, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd issued a restraining order, preventing the Attorney General, Special Prosecutor and the KSP, “from taking any actions that would interfere with or impeded the operation of the Office of Secretary of State without prior authorization of this Court.”

The order included a ban on “seizing any computers, equipment, books, papers, or other property of the Secretary of State without a duly authorized warrant, and from interrogating any employees or contractors of the Secretary of State without the presence of counsel for the Office of Secretary of State.”

The order also said Grimes “has presented substantial legal issues at to the validity of Mr. Metcalf, Special Prosecutor, and the legality of the seizure by the Kentucky State Police of the computers from the Office of Secretary of State.”

Metcalf then sought and obtained a temporary halt from the Court of Appeals to stop Shepherd’s restraining order, after which Shepherd held other action related to the case would be held in abeyance pending the outcome of the appellate court proceedings.

In a 14-page ruling, the Court of Appeals stated Franklin Circuit Court has jurisdiction to act and that “Metcalf failed to allege an injury which would entitle him to relief from the circuit court’s restraining order.”

“Until the circuit court reaches some conclusion on these issues, Metcalf’s only injury was a brief suspension of his investigation until all parties could litigate the issue.”

The panel concluded, “This court’s October 16, 2019 order granting intermediate relief was improvidently entered, and that Metcalf’s petition for a writ of prohibition should be denied,” and set aside the earlier ruling.

It’s now up to Judge Shepherd to act on the earlier motions by Grimes and Metcalf.

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