Gray v. Webb, 112420 ARSC, CV-20-624

Docket NºCV-20-624
Opinion JudgeJOHN DAN KEMP, CHIEF JUSTICE.
Party NameMICHAEL JOHN GRAY, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY ASCHAIRMAN OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF ARKANSAS; AND NICOLE HART, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS CHAIR OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF ARKANSAS'S NOMINATING CONVENTION FOR HOUSE DISTRICT 12 APPELLANTS v. DOYLE WEBB, ON BEHALF OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY OF ARKANSAS; AND DAVID TOLLETT, A RESIDENT, QUALIFIED ELECTOR...
AttorneyFuqua Campbell, P.A., by: Annie Depper, for appellants. George P. Ritter, Deputy General Counsel for the Republican Party of Arkansas; and Gregory L. Vardaman, for appellees.
Case DateNovember 24, 2020
CourtSupreme Court of Arkansas

2020 Ark. 385

MICHAEL JOHN GRAY, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY ASCHAIRMAN OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF ARKANSAS; AND NICOLE HART, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS CHAIR OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF ARKANSAS'S NOMINATING CONVENTION FOR HOUSE DISTRICT 12 APPELLANTS

v.

DOYLE WEBB, ON BEHALF OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY OF ARKANSAS; AND DAVID TOLLETT, A RESIDENT, QUALIFIED ELECTOR, AND THE REPUBLICAN NOMINEE FOR ARKANSAS HOUSE DISTRICT 12 APPELLEES

No. CV-20-624

Supreme Court of Arkansas

November 24, 2020

APPEAL FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 60CV-20-5742] HONORABLE MACKIE PIERCE, JUDGE.

Fuqua Campbell, P.A., by: Annie Depper, for appellants.

George P. Ritter, Deputy General Counsel for the Republican Party of Arkansas; and Gregory L. Vardaman, for appellees.

JOHN DAN KEMP, CHIEF JUSTICE.

Michael John Gray, in his official capacity as Chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, and Nicole Hart, in her official capacity as Chair of the Democratic Party of Arkansas's Nominating Convention for House District 12, appeal a Pulaski County Circuit Court order granting writ of mandamus and declaratory judgment. The circuit court found that Democratic Party nominee Jimmie Wilson had been convicted of crimes that disqualified him under article 5, section 9 of the Arkansas Constitution from serving in the Arkansas House of Representatives. The court also found that Wilson's presidential pardon did not restore his eligibility to sit as a representative. For reversal, appellants argue that the circuit court erred in granting the petition because Wilson's presidential pardon negated his convictions and restored his right to seek and hold public office. We affirm.

I.

Facts

On August 22, 1990, Wilson entered a guilty plea in federal court to two counts of violating 18 United States Code section 641 and three counts of violating 18 United States Code section 658. These were all misdemeanor offenses. On March 6, 2001, Wilson received a presidential pardon from President William Jefferson Clinton.

On July 13, 2020, Wilson was selected as the Democratic Party nominee to run in the November 3, 2020 election for the District 12 position. On October 15, 2020, appellees Doyle Webb, on behalf of the Republican Party of Arkansas, and David Tollett, a resident, qualified elector, and the Republican Party nominee for the District 12 seat, filed a complaint in the Pulaski County Circuit Court pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 7-5-207(b) (Supp. 2019), alleging that Wilson's convictions disqualified him from sitting in the Arkansas General Assembly despite his presidential pardon. They sought a declaration that Wilson was not qualified to serve in the Arkansas General Assembly and a writ of mandamus prohibiting (1) the counting of votes for Wilson and (2) his certification as an elected representative for District 12.

Following an October 26, 2020 hearing, the circuit court ruled from the bench that Wilson was ineligible to serve in the Arkansas House of Representatives because of his misdemeanor convictions and that his pardon did not restore his eligibility. That same day, the circuit court entered an order finding that (1) Wilson had been convicted of crimes that disqualify him under article 5, section 9 of the Arkansas Constitution from sitting as a representative in the Arkansas General Assembly and (2) his pardon did not restore his eligibility to sit as a representative. The circuit court stayed pending appeal to this court the portion of its order prohibiting the county boards of election commissioners from counting any votes in Wilson's favor. The circuit court also stayed pending appeal any certification of the election results. On October 27, 2020, appellants filed their notice of appeal.

II. Eligibility to Hold Public Office

Appellants argue that Wilson's presidential pardon, while not declaring him innocent of the federal charges to which he pleaded guilty and not erasing the underlying facts of the convictions, nullified those convictions. They contend that Wilson is eligible to hold public office because article 5, section 9 of the Arkansas Constitution, which prohibits an individual convicted of an infamous crime from holding public office, does not apply to him.[1]

This court applies the clearly-erroneous standard of review in mandamus and declaratory-judgment actions. Wyatt v. Carr, 2020 Ark. 21, at 9, 592 S.W.3d 656, 661. However, a circuit court's conclusion on a question of law is reviewed de novo and is given no deference on appeal. Helena-West Helena Sch. Dist. v. Fluker, 371 Ark. 574, 577, 268 S.W.3d 879, 882 (2007).

Article 5, section 9 of the Arkansas Constitution provides, (a) No person convicted of embezzlement of public money, bribery, forgery, or other infamous crime is eligible to the General Assembly or capable of holding any office of trust or profit in this state.

(b) As used in this section, "infamous crime" means:

(1) A felony offense;

(2) Abuse of office as defined under Arkansas...

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