Jackson County Circuit Clerk pleads in court, resigns from offic - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

Jackson County Circuit Clerk pleads in court; resigns from office

JACKSON COUNTY, AR (KAIT) – The Jackson County Circuit Clerk pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft Thursday afternoon in court.

According to court documents, Circuit Clerk Lisa Turner pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft and resigned from office.

According to the plea deal, Turner will pay back $15 in restitution as well as pay a fine of $100 and other court costs totaling more than $150.

The plea deal also stipulated that Turner is prohibited from running for public office ever again because of the Arkansas Constitution's "infamous crime" clause.

According to documents obtained from Arkansas State Police, Turner told investigators that she used money from an undisclosed petty cash fund for personal use, including buying herself meals on two separate occasions.

According to the probable cause affidavit, Turner explained, "the money in the fund was obtained from the sales of copies of records in the office. The money was kept in a drawer in the counter in the office."

The affidavit also states that Turner initially lied to state auditors about having access to this petty cash fund. Investigators also learned after conducting interviews with Turner and her staff that Turner asked them to lie about its existence as well.

The affidavit states, "The employees also admitted Turner had instructed them to deny to the auditors the office having the petty cash fund and they had to sign a document for the auditors that the fund did not exist."

Investigators could only pinpoint that Turner had taken $15, though she admitted to spending some of the petty cash on a $40 holiday wreath to decorate the office and allowing her son to buy drinks from a soda machine.

The investigation into this incident began almost three weeks ago after Henry Boyce, the Third Judicial District's prosecuting attorney, received a confidential tip about possible wrongdoing in the county's circuit clerk office. Boyce asked ASP to open an investigation, which concluded in less than two weeks. When Boyce reviewed the findings, he recused himself from the case because of a conflict of interest and requested that a special prosecutor be appointed.

Jack McQuary, a special prosecuting attorney with the State of Arkansas, took over the case and helped negotiate the plea deal that Turner and her attorney agreed to Thursday.

McQuary says although the amount Turner took was minimal, it's still taxpayer dollars.

"While we're not talking about very much, it is taken very seriously because this is public money," he said. "It is not to be used in that manner, so charges were brought.

As part of the negotiated plea deal, Turner submitted her resignation.

Region 8 News obtained her handwritten resignation letter that was submitted to the Jackson County judge's office. In the letter, she wrote, "After 18-plus years of hard work and dedicated service to this great county, it is with a heavy heart that I resign my position."

The Jackson County Quorum Court called a special meeting Thursday night to discuss what steps the justices must take to fill Turner's now vacant seat.

The county's civil attorney explained that the justices would have to declare a vacancy by publishing it twice in the local newspaper. The justices can then appoint someone to serve the rest of Turner's term through 2014.

County Judge Jeff Phillips says whoever is chosen to succeed Turner is entirely the quorum court's decision. The candidate, however, cannot be a justice of the peace or one of the member's close relatives. They must also be a registered voter, be 18 years of age or older and possess no criminal background – standard requirements for any public officer.

Phillips says Turner's replacement also cannot run for the position when the current term expires.

"Next year someone else will run for this position," he said. "Whoever the voters elect will be the next – for 2015 – will be the next circuit clerk."

Phillips does not think that Turner's resignation will have much effect on the operations of the circuit clerk's office.

He expects the quorum court to be ready to name Turner's successor by their next meeting on June 13.

Copyright 2013 KAIT. All rights reserved.

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