Saying they were making a mountain out of a mole hill, Circuit Court Judge Bart Stanley accepted a no-contest plea from County Commissioner Wayne Copeland and granted his 30-day judicial diversion on gambling charges.
“This was not the crime of the century,” Stanley admonished prosecutors Wednesday afternoon after they refused to go along with a request by Copeland attorney Ryan J. Moore to allow his client a judicial diversion on the misdemeanor gambling charge. “We’re talking about a 70-year-old man who hasn’t been in any trouble in his life who has 20 citizens of Warren County here to testify about what a good guy he is.”
Copeland entered a no-contest plea to the charge of gambling for his being caught this past summer at a poker game at a local gambling house. Twenty-two people were cited for gambling while others were hit with drug charges.
“Gambling, drugs and prostitution were going on,” testified sheriff’s investigator Jody Cavanaugh of the decision to raid the gambling house located on Academy Lane, noting Copeland was captured on surveillance cameras throwing his $25 entry fee on the table just before the tournament was to begin.
Cavanaugh went on to say lawmen oppose any request for a judicial diversion. A judicial diversion means Copeland will have his criminal record erased after his 30-day suspended sentence is complete. Cavanaugh said it was because they feared Copeland would continue gambling if he were not taught a lesson.
Said Cavanaugh, “A year prior to this, Mr. Copeland was traveling to different sites to gamble."
Assistant district attorney Matt Colvard also opposed a diversion, noting Copeland had continually lied to them when he was arrested, first by saying he wasn’t gambling and then by claiming authorities had framed him by spreading poker chips on tables to set the scene.
“He failed to accept responsibility for his actions,” Colvard told the judge. “When confronted with a video tape that clearly shows him there he then says he was there but he was just there delivering tacos. Gambling is one thing but as a county commissioner to accuse (law enforcement) of colluding together to fabricate evidence is another.”
Judge Stanley waved off the prosecution’s protest of a judicial diversion being granted, saying he believed prosecutors and lawmen were digging in their heels because they were insulted by Copeland’s claim, during a newspaper interview with the Southern Standard, that lawmen had staged the scene.
“It’s my opinion if Mr. Moore had not gone to the newspaper and made a couple of statements that turned out to be false, we wouldn’t be here,” Stanley declared, noting he did not believe the attorney intentionally meant to mislead the court but that information he had received ended up not panning out. “The truth is that if he hadn’t made that statement, we wouldn’t be sitting here. There are people who sell meth and hydrocodone who get diversions.”
The judge added that the court of appeals would laugh if they were sent the case on appeal if he were to reject the request for diversion.
“The board of criminal appeals would laugh at us if I denied a diversion and sent this up to them,” Stanley said.
Judge Stanley granted the 30-day diversion along with a $50 fine meaning Copeland will be shielded from any impeachment proceedings in the Warren County Commission by being accepted for diversion since the conviction will not be on his record. Gambling is one of the few impeachment offenses for county commissioners.