Faulkner County Clerk Margaret Darter pleaded guilty Tuesday to obstructing of government operations, a Class C misdemeanor.
As part of her negotiated plea, Darter immediately resigned from her post as county clerk and will be ordered to pay a $500 fine among other court costs.
In a one-sentence letter submitted to Faulkner County Judge Jim Baker around 4 p.m. Tuesday, Darter wrote: "Dear Judge Baker: I hereby resign my position as County Clerk, effective immediately."
The quorum court will meet in emergency session at 6 p.m. Wednesday to declare a vacancy and appoint a replacement. The meeting is open to the public.
Darter’s charge stemmed from a June request by Faulkner County Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland to Arkansas State Police to conduct a criminal investigation into the date elected officials filed their Statements of Financial Interest (SFIs) versus the date stamp posted on the documents, according to an affidavit.
A Feb. 27 email from Darter to Faulkner County Justices of the Peace regarding SFI forms stated she would hand file late forms for Jan. 31.
Darter, a Republican, is seeking re-election as county clerk and her name will appear on the November ballot against Democrat Penny McClung.
"She now will campaign more," Darter’s Attorney Frank Shaw told the Log Cabin Democrat. "With her duties as clerk and these actions hanging over her head, she’s hardly had time to campaign."
County Attorney David Hogue explained that Darter’s plea agreement doesn’t automatically disqualify her from the race. If someone contests Darter’s eligibility, a circuit judge would be tasked with determining whether she committed an infamous crime, which by state law would make her ineligible for office.
Shaw said he doubts that would happen.
"Under current Arkansas law, the crime is not an infamous crime. It seems unlikely it ever would be," he said. "It’s the lowest class misdemeanor, a notch above a traffic violation that always results in a fine. It’s a common charge."
Shaw, speaking to the Log Cabin with Darter’s permission, said the whole incident "was a vendetta against the county clerk by one Justice of the Peace." He did not specify which JP had the vendetta.
Shaw pointed out that although the email was sent on Feb. 27, the investigation didn’t begin until June. He said Darter was "a victim" of an "intra-party squabble" that started after the June meeting of the quorum court.
"There was a political motive in the complaint filed against her," Shaw said.
He said because Darter hadn’t brought the SFIs to the January meeting as he claims her predecessor did, she felt guilty that the JPs’ forms were late, even though that is the candidate’s responsibility and not the county clerk’s job.
In order to remedy this, he said, she offered to hand stamp the documents.
"There was no mental intent to commit a crime here," he said.
A call late Tuesday to Special Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Brian Clary was not returned by press time.
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