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The Sun-Times - Heber Springs, AR
  • Uncertainty in race for Sheriff

  • The uncertainty surrounding Republican candidate for Sheriff Josh Johnston's eligibility to run and hold office was still up in the air as of Thursday morning
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  • The uncertainty surrounding Republican candidate for Sheriff Josh Johnston’s eligibility to run and hold office was still up in the air as of Thursday morning.  In April, Republican candidates Don Sims and Brian Haile filed suit to have Johnston ruled ineligible based on a 1995 misdemeanor hot check conviction. The suit was based on a section of the Arkansas Constitution that states “no person hereafter convicted of embezzlement of public money, bribery, forgery or other infamous crime, shall be eligible to the General Assembly or capable of holding any office of trust or profit in this State.”  It also cites the Constitution in defining infamous crimes as including a “misdemeanor offense in which the finder of fact was required to find, or the defendant to admit, an act of deceit, fraud, or false statement.”  Sims and Haile have asserted that the position of Sheriff falls into these categories and Johnston’s hot check conviction makes him ineligible to serve in the office of Sheriff.
    Johnston, a former state representative, has fought the charge arguing that the misdemeanor conviction will be expunged next month and sealed.  The case was dismissed out of Cleburne and sent to Pulaski County, where it was dismissed and sent back to Cleburne.  On May 8th, Circuit Judge Tim Weaver ruled that Johnston was ineligible to serve as Sheriff and the County Election Commission not certify any result regarding Johnston.  This meant that any votes cast for Johnston would not be counted in the primary election. 
    As of Thursday morning, Judge Weaver’s ruling still stands, however Johnston filed a motion for a new trial, or alternately stay the court’s decision for one month.  The motion was granted and will be heard in Batesville Friday morning. Johnston and his attorneys are arguing that the allegations making him ineligible were inaccurate and led to an error by the Court in its decision.  He is also arguing that the cases presented by Haile and Sims only contain instances of courts removing an incumbent from office, not for a candidate seeking office.
    Both Haile and Johnston released statements regarding their positions on the issue.
    “This was not a suit to point out foolish mistakes made by a young man 17 years ago,” said Haile.  “I too was a foolish young man once and I too have made my share of mistakes.  I wish Mr. Johnston, his family and supporters the best during this difficult time.  I am sensitive to how difficult this is for Josh.”
    “If elected,” continued Haile, “every time Mr. Johnston took the witness stand his credibility would have been attacked on these grounds.  It would have become an issue in every arrest.  How could a Sheriff enforce the law if he flaunts the law?”
    Page 2 of 2 - “It’s sad to me what some people will do for political gain,” said Johnston.  “I don’t hold any ill will towards Brian Haile and Don Sims for filing this lawsuit, but I think an election should be decided by the voters based on merits instead of digging up something my opponent did 20 years ago as a teenager.  I would rather lose with dignity than win by deceit.”
    With the uncertainty surrounding the ballot over the past couple of weeks, The Sun-Times has refrained from reporting on the ballot status to avoid any confusion without a final determination in place.  The agreement to hear the case again in Batesville on Friday still raises questions and will make us unable to report in the print edition on the eventual status of the ballot for Sheriff before the primary election on Tuesday, May 20th.  As of publication, the latest ruling declaring Johnston ineligible still stands and any votes cast for him will not be counted.  We are staying on top of developments regarding this issue and we will post the results of the determination made Friday on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thesuntimes to keep our readers updated on the latest decision.

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