Editorial Jury trial best for Cynthia Finch case

Cynthia Finch, the aide under former Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale charged with fabricating receipts in advance of an audit, will face a jury of her peers.

State Attorney General Robert E. Cooper correctly rejected Finch's request for pretrial diversion, which would have allowed Finch to sidestep a trial and resulted in a clean criminal record if she stayed out of trouble.

Finch is accused of fabricating about $2,200 in receipts for copies. She turned in the receipts during an investigative audit of the county's purchasing card expenditures and resigned in 2008 when the allegations came to light.

In a four-page letter, Cooper allowed that there were factors supporting Finch's bid for diversion - including her stable family and childhood, educational achievements and the esteem community leaders have for her.

But Cooper rightly points out that her education, background and position of trust should have been bulwarks against criminal activity. The gravity of the charges - fabricating documents to be used in an investigative audit of public expenditures - far outweighed the mitigating factors, Cooper determined.

"The nature and circumstances of the offense weigh heavily against granting your application for diversion," he wrote.

Cooper also reminded Finch that the incident undermined trust in Knox County government and noted that Finch has not expressed regret or remorse about the situation.

By going ahead with a trial, Cooper reasoned, the situation could act as a deterrent to other elected officials who might be tempted to violate the public's trust in a similar fashion.

Cooper concluded that all Knox County citizens were victims of the crime, and it's only appropriate that a jury of Knox County residents determines her fate.

Cooper's reasonable and just actions in the Finch case contrast with special prosecutor Michael Dunavent's handling of Loudon County Property Assessor Doyle Arp's activities. Dunavent decided not to prosecute Arp last year for lopping $11 million off the appraised values of some 200 parcels owned or controlled by developer Mike Ross. One of Ross' aides altered numbers on deeds to make it look like lots were selling for more than they actually were. And Ross hired Arp's son.

Arp might not have been guilty of a crime, but a Loudon County jury should have been given the chance to consider the evidence and either convict or exonerate him.

A trial will give Finch a chance to clear her name. And it will give Knox Countians an opportunity to judge for themselves whether she should be punished for her actions.