A change in state law has opened the door for public service by people with past criminal records that previously disqualified them.
That was the ruling today in Circuit Court in Seary County. Judge David Clark said Kenny Cassell was eligible to run for sheriff despite a misdemeanor federal conviction for receiving stolen Cornish hens in
Cassell was elected sheriff in 2010, then removed from office on a petition by the prosecutor on account of his past record. The ruling said that he had been convicted of an “infamous crime” — a disqualifier as a crime of dishonesty, even though a misdemeanor, in the state Constitution.
But in 2016, voters approved a Constitutional amendment that changed grounds for removal from office. Infamous crime for purpose of disqualfication now only includes a misdemeanor “in which the finder of fact was required to find, or the defendant to admit, an act of deceit, fraud or false statement.” Cassell said he wanted to try to run again this year and the prosecutor again objected.
Cassell did not plead to a crime that met that standard, his attorneys argued in seeking a ruling he was eligible to run. He possessed — and knew he possessed — stolen chickens. But his lawyers said in the brief on which a summary judgment was awarded :
While other portions of the statute mention the unlawful obtaining by fraud or deception from various types of vehicles or common carriers, those portions of the statute are irrelevant to Cassell’s guilty plea, which merely stemmed from his receipt of chicken chattel, not any active fraudulent or deceitful obtaining of chicken chattel by theft as described in the statute.
In upholding Cassell’s previous removal from the ballot, the Arkansas Supreme Court had said his conviction involved dishonesty. But the new amendment was intended to remove “dishonesty” from the characteristics of misdemeanors deemed “infamous,” the judge effectively ruled in adopting the plaintiff’s motion.
Chris Burks and Blake Hoyt represented Cassell.
No word yet if the prosecutor will seek a definitive ruling from the Supreme Court, which, prior to the 2016 amendment, had made clear a couple of times that misdemeanor theft (once a charge involving campaign signs) was sufficient for removal from office.