Hunter Field of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette broke the news this afternoon that House Speaker Matthew Shepherd intends to introduce a resolution to expel tax cheat Rep. Mickey Gates,  (R-Hot Springs,) from the Arkansas House.

I obtained a copy of the letter from Shepherd’s office.

The letter says the resolution could be considered by the House caucus soon after introduction.

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Gates entered a no-contest plea to a felony tax charge for failing to file taxes (for 15 years, though the original charges were limited to six years because of the statute of limitations.) He was sentenced to probation under a first-offender act and he said he wouldn’t resign because that meant he wasn’t convicted of a felony. He was re-elected while the charges were pending.  Democrats have called for his resignation since the charges emerged. There’s no contest from Gates that he owes money. Part of his plea bargain is repayment of some of the money he didn’t pay all those years. The state claims he owes more than a quarter of a million.

Shepherd notes the constitutional provision for removal of public officials have been found guilty or pleaded no contest to a “public trust crime.” The courts have interpreted this to apply even to misdemeanor convictions involving theft.

I’ve left a message with Gates. His lawyer, Jeff Rosenzweig, said Gates understands why the speaker sent the letter. But he said he hasn’t seen the resolution. He said if the resolution relies on a new state law, it is unconstitutional because it alters the qualifications for office over what’s in the Constitution. They will still argue that the resolution of Gates’ case was not a conviction. But it’s not clear what all the resolution will rely on, he said. The question of a court challenge is open until more is known, Rosenzweig said.

But he said the first-offender act has been held to not constitute a “conviction” and the Constitution requires a “conviction” for expulsion from office. The House has broad discretion over its membership. But even if it were to find it could expel him, that wouldn’t mean he couldn’t run again.