Tuesday, March 13, 2012

TOP STORY >> JP candidate pleads no contest

Leader staff writer

Toby Troutman, a candidate for Lonoke County Quorum Court charged with felony forgery, pleaded no contest in circuit court Monday to a lesser charge of misdemeanor theft of property and was placed on probation for one year.

It is unclear whether the plea will prevent Troutman from running.

Prosecutor Chuck Graham said the original charge against Toby Troutman came out of a divorce hearing from former Lonoke County JP Jodie Troutman.

Toby Troutman was charged after Jodie Troutman complained to a detective with the sheriff’s department that on June 15, 2011, Toby forged Jodie’s signature on an insurance check for storm damage in the amount of $8,579.38, a fact that Toby admitted on Aug. 29, 2011 in Judge Barbara Elmore’s court.

But in the end, “She got the money,” Graham said, adding that a felony charge for a disagreement during a divorce was not something he wanted to pursue.

To the surprise of many Republicans, Toby Troutman filed as a Republican for JP Dist. 1 against Brent Cannon, who is also a Republican. Troutman is the son of former Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman, who served several years and always ran as a Democrat. Jodie Trout-man served as a Democrat on the quorum court.

A misdemeanor conviction that showed a lack of honesty or integrity could prevent him from running for office and his opponent would run unopposed and win in the May primary.

But Jerry Shepard, a Republican and one of two lawyers on the three-member Lonoke County Election Commission, said Tuesday that Troutman was not technically convicted of anything. As a first offender, Troutman invoked Act 346, the First Offender Act of 1975, which put the case on hold. If he completes probation, the charge and record could be expunged.

Still, Shepard said, “There is case law that would indicate that Troutman should be removed from the ballot.”

Whether Troutman is allowed to run is not a question that will be answered by the election commission, Shepard said. Anyone who wants him off the ballot would have to sue in circuit court and a judge would decide.

Shepard said he learned from talking to officials with the office of the Arkansas Secretary of State that the commission could sue to keep Troutman off the ballot. The Lonoke County Republican Committee or any resident also could sue, he said.

Lucas Minton, chairman of the Lonoke County Republican Committee, said earlier this month that a policy of the Republican Party prevents the committee from supporting one Republican candidate over another. However, the committee is allowed to tell voters which candidate they “do not recommend.”

Troutman was represented by Hubert Alexander. In addition to probation, Troutman was ordered to pay $715 in fines and court costs.

Toby and Jodie Troutman are still married. A hearing in their divorce case is set for June 13.