Friday, December 11, 2015

TOP STORY >> Judge rules candidates go on ballot

Leader staff writer

A Pulaski County circuit judge ruled Friday that the Lonoke County clerk’s opponent and a constable candidate should be placed on the primary election ballot even though the clerk declared their paperwork deficient.

County clerk candidate Courtney Ruble and unopposed Magness Township constable candidate Nathanael House will appear on the ballot. The latter is the son of Rep. Douglas House (R-North Little Rock), and Ruble worked in the clerk’s office until early December. But she wasn’t in the department that deals with election paperwork, Ruble testified.

The decision does not apply to two others — Dist. 4 Justice of the Peace candidate Gregory Gibson and Gumwood Township constable candidate Stephen Wright. They were excluded from the ballot for the same reason, but won’t be on it now because they didn’t join the lawsuit, according to Judge Mackie Pierce.

At Friday’s hearing, he said he didn’t blame County Clerk Dawn Porterfield for hesitating to certify the names. He noted that the issue coming before him “insulates” her from criminal liability.

Pierce added, addressing Porterfield, “I don’t think there’s anything here even remotely of a criminal nature, but I don’t think you’re being unreasonable” by saying a circuit court ruling was needed.

The judge also repeated one of her attorney’s points that the Faulkner County clerk had been charged for altering documents after the filing deadline.

Pierce said, “I am not faulting Miss Porterfield here because I am familiar with the clerk’s situation in Faulkner County,” noting that he thought that situation was different.

Porterfield has said no one she asked could give her the legal authority to change documents after the 12 p.m. Nov. 9 filing deadline.

Although the constable candidate filed for office Nov. 3, the clerk’s opponent filed around 10:40 a.m. Nov. 9.

At issue for both were blank “receipts” at the bottom of their affidavits of eligibility that Porterfield said should have been completed by the Lonoke County Republican Party.

The judge agreed the “receipts” should have been filled out for the sake of clarity, but said the law does not state they had to be. He also said the forms were “completed poorly” by party officials, who could have objected, but Porterfield had no standing to do so.

In addition, Ruble didn’t write her name in a space on her political practice pledge that instructs, “Print your name as it is to appear on the ballot. (See Below, Ark Code Ann. 7-7-305(c)).” Porterfield testified that the name written in that blank is what she is supposed to certify, even though Ruble’s name is elsewhere on the same document.

On another form, Ruble wrote her name in a blank where the office she was running for should have gone.

The judge directed that Porterfield let Ruble fix the mistakes.

He also allowed Lonoke County Election Commission Chairman Chuck Eick to hold a ballot draw after the hearing. Ruble drew the first position, meaning her name will appear above Porterfield’s on the ballot.

While announcing his decision, Pierce chastised, “I’ve been a candidate five times now in my lifetime. I assure you I went over every form I ever had filed with a fine-toothed comb.”

The judge, addressing Ruble, said, “You didn’t print your name as it should appear on the ballot, and, believe me, with a first name like Mackie, I’m going to make sure I get my name right (on the ballot)...I understand that it’s a hectic deal and you were on the last week, but the office is not Courtney Ruble.”

But, Pierce continued, “I don’t think, when you take all of the documents as a whole, I don’t think that the statute has provided such that you’re not an eligible candidate.”

The judge noted that there were no objections from any party to his declaring that both are eligible candidates.

After the hearing, Ruble told The Leader, “I’m very pleased with the outcome. I’m excited to get started with my campaign.”

House said, “I feel relieved. I’m glad that it’s the outcome that we wanted. I’m just anxious to get to serving the people of Lonoke County now.”

Eick commented, “It’s a shame that eligible candidates have to go and take their candidacy to a circuit court judge to be placed on a ballot so that the citizens of Lonoke County can decide who they want in office.”