FRANKFORT, Ky. — A grand jury indicted Gov. Ernie Fletcher on misdemeanor charges Thursday, accusing him of illegally rewarding political supporters with state jobs.

Fletcher was charged with conspiracy, official misconduct and violating a prohibition against political discrimination.

For the last year, a special grand jury has been investigating whether his administration broke state law by basing personnel decisions on political considerations.

The grand jury also issued 14 indictments under seal Thursday. That is along with 13 other current and former administration officials and associates previously indicted on misdemeanor counts.

Fletcher, at a press conference last August, announced that he pardoned his entire administration — other than himself — for any charges that could result from the probe. In his pardon, Fletcher named nine people specifically and offered blanket amnesty to everyone else.

Fletcher, the first Republican elected Kentucky governor since 1967, centered his 2003 campaign around a promise to "clean up the mess in Frankfort." The previous Democratic governor, Paul Patton, had been tarnished by a highly publicized extramarital affair.

Fletcher spokesman Brett Hall said the governor, who was in Ashland for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the local hospital, had been made aware of the indictment. Hall said Fletcher wasn't surprised.

"This has been a politically motivated, media driven investigation from the start," Hall said. "Governor Fletcher has said repeatedly his conscience is clear. He has done nothing wrong. We are evaluating the charges, and, likewise, we are studying our recourse of action in the wake of this malicious prosecution."

The criminal indictment against Fletcher alleges he conspired with other administration officials, including former chief of staff Daniel Groves, on a hiring scheme dubbed the "Governor's Personnel Initiative." Administration officials, according to the indictment, crafted an elaborate system of screening job candidates for positions throughout state government. Those officials ran background checks on prospective job prospects' political affiliations and donations, according to the indictment.

Fletcher perpetuated the conspiracy by repeatedly denying its existence and claiming that his administration's internal review uncovered no violations of state law, according to the indictment.

The grand jury also charged Fletcher for allegedly discriminating against a former state transportation employee, Mike Duncan, who was an employee in the attorney general's office for Fletcher's gubernatorial opponent, now-U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler.

"My reaction is that we simply have to let the grand jury perform its function, and let our system of law work itself out," said House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green.

Senate Majority Leader Dan Kelly, R-Springfield, called the indictments An abuse of power by Democratic Attorney General Greg Stumbo for political purposes. Fletcher has said previously he considered Stumbo a possible gubernatorial candidate next year.

Hall said the administration would file a motion seeking to disqualify Stumbo and his entire staff from further participation in the patronage investigation.

Kelly, meanwhile, said he doesn't think Fletcher should consider resigning.

"He has a job to do, and there's a lot of work to be done," Kelly said. "And hopefully he'll be able to continue directing his energies in that effort despite the fact that this indictment has been issued."

The term of the special grand jury is set to expire May 19, but Scott Crawford-Sutherland, a prosecutor in the attorney general's office, said earlier Thursday that he expected to request an extension.

Lexington attorney Larry Forgy, a Republican leader who once ran unsuccessfully for governor, called Stumbo Fletcher's "principal opponent" in next year's gubernatorial election.

"It will embarrass Kentucky from coast to coast, and the people of this state aren't going to appreciate it a bit," he said of the indictments. "This is a blatant political assassination, and will eventually boomerang to help Gov. Fletcher."

U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Lexington, whom Fletcher defeated to become governor, said "it's a sad day in the history of Kentucky."

Recommended for you