Jackson County Circuit Clerk pleads in court; resigns from office

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

According to courtdocuments, Circuit Clerk Lisa Turner pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft andresigned from office.

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

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

According to documentsobtained from Arkansas State Police, Turner told investigators that she usedmoney from an undisclosed petty cash fund for personal use, including buyingherself meals on two separate occasions.

According to the probablecause affidavit, Turner explained, "the money in the fund was obtained from thesales of copies of records in the office. The money was kept in a drawer in thecounter in the office."

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

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

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

The investigation into thisincident began almost three weeks ago after Henry Boyce, the Third JudicialDistrict's prosecuting attorney, received a confidential tip about possiblewrongdoing 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, herecused himself from the case because of a conflict of interest and requestedthat a special prosecutor be appointed.

Jack McQuary, a specialprosecuting attorney with the State of Arkansas, took over the case and helpednegotiate the plea deal that Turner and her attorney agreed to Thursday.

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

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

As part of the negotiatedplea deal, Turner submitted her resignation.

Region 8 News obtained herhandwritten resignation letter that was submitted to the Jackson County judge'soffice. In the letter, she wrote, "After 18-plus years of hard work anddedicated service to this great county, it is with a heavy heart that I resignmy position."

The Jackson County QuorumCourt called a special meeting Thursday night to discuss what steps thejustices must take to fill Turner's now vacant seat.

The county's civil attorneyexplained that the justices would have to declare a vacancy by publishing it twicein the local newspaper. The justices can then appoint someone to serve the restof Turner's term through 2014.

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

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

"Next year someone else willrun 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'sresignation will have much effect on the operations of the circuit clerk'soffice.

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

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