Circuit Judge Wendel Griffen ruled today that a record of hot check violations ranging from 25 to 27 years ago disqualified Jim Wyatt from seeking a circuit judgeship next year.
The on-line court record system says, with citations omitted:
James Wyatt, the defendant is identified as “James Winfield Wyatt,” and the certified docket on citation label WR42623 for violation dated 11-18-1992 identifies violation described as AR Hot Check MISD, and states that the defendant (James Winfield Wyatt) “entered a plea of guilty. Defendant guilty.” The certified docket reflects payment of $22.31 received.
(2) In Pulaski County District Court case no. PC92-1-22597, State v. James Wyatt, the defendant is identified as “James Winfield Wyatt, and the certified docket on citation label WR43009 for violation filed on 9-4-1992 identifies violation described as AR Hot Check MISD, and states that “Defendant entered a plea of guilty. Defendant guilty.” Payment received is listed as $324.
(3) In Pulaski County District Court case no. PC92-1-22598, State v. James Wyatt, the certified court docket identifies defendant as Wyatt, James Winfield” for citation labeled WR43010, filed 9-4-1992 for a violation described as AR Hot Check Fel, and states that “Defendant entered a plea of guilty. Defendant guilty.” Payment received is listed as $639.
(4) In Pulaski County District Court case no. PC94-1-2137, State v. James Wyatt, the certified court docket indentifes defendant as “Wyatt, James Winfield” for citation labeled WR50863, filed 6-17-1994 for a violation described as AR Hot Check MISD. No disposition is stated. Based on the decisions of the AR Supreme Court in State v. Cassell and State v. Oldner the court holds that the term “infamous crime” as used in Art. 5, Section 9 of the Arkansas Constitution is one that includes an element of dishonesty. The holding in Edwards v. Campbell is that one who has committed an “infamous crime” is ineligible to hold public office. An “infamous crime” renders one ineligible to file for, run for, or hold the office of circuit judge. The AR Hot Check Law, Ark. Code Ann. Section 5-37-302 involves an element of dishonesty or intent to defraud for purposes of the “infamous crime” disqualification in Art. 5, Section 9 of the Arkansas Constitution.
The Court finds that Petitioner has established by a preponderance of the evidence that Respondent has entered guilty pleas as indicated herein to violations of the AR. Hot Check Law, and that his guilty pleas render him ineligible to file for, seek, be elected to, or hold the office of circuit judge. Respondents AR Secretary of State and Pulaski County Board of Election Commissioners are hereby ordered not to certify Respondent James Winfield Wyatt as a candidate for Circuit Judge, nor place his name on the ballot, nor count any votes cast for Respondent James Winfield Wyatt.
I’m seeking a comment from Wyatt, whose motions to have the case dismissed were rejected by the judge. He had told me earlier that he was sure he’d never entered a guilty plea to a hot check charge. He also said he’d represented his father, James Wyatt, on a similar charge. He said the lack of original records in the case made it hard for him to respond to specifics in the lawsuit filed by attorney Chris Burks for Tyray Carr, a Pulaski County resident who, Burks said, was interested in strict enforcement of law pertaining to judicial candidates. Carr didn’t appear in court today but the judge refused to dismiss the case for that reason.
Wyatt, president of the Pulaski County Bar Association, was one of four candidates who’ve announced intentions to seek the judgeship being vacated by retiring Judge Vann Smith. If he is unable to successfully appeal this ruling, Andrew Ballard, Shawn Johnson and Tom Barron remain in the race.
UPDATE: response from Wyatt:
“We disagree with the Court’s ruling and will be filing an immediate appeal. We will ask the Arkansas Supreme Court to have the final say.”