STAR CITY — Circuit Judge Rob Wyatt on Monday refused to reject key state evidence in the five criminal charges pending against Gould Mayor Earnest Nash Jr.
Wyatt did agree to sever two counts for a separate jury trial and indicated Nash will go on trial Aug. 13 on one set of charges.
Prosecuting Attorney Kyle Hunter filed the five charges against Nash in March, accusing him of obstructing governmental operations in the municipality; prohibiting Pamela Barley-Gibson, appointed recorder-treasurer, from performing her duties; authorizing payments from two municipal funds in violation of municipal ordinance; and altering Gould City Court records without authorization and converting $520 in court funds to his own use.
Hunter, who was present for Monday’s pretrial hearing, has said Nash could be removed as mayor if convicted of nonfeasance in office.
Nash’s attorneys, Gene McKissic of Pine Bluff and Hank Bates of Little Rock, were unsuccessful in convincing Wyatt that statutes of limitations would prohibit taking Nash to trial on the charges stemming from the municipal court, where Nash served as court clerk.
Chief Deputy Prosecutor Wayne Juneau argued that while the documents were public records, court dockets could not be found in the municipal files and actions taken by Nash were only recorded on digital files.
Clayton Moss, special agent with the Arkansas State Police Criminal Investigation Division, testified that city court checks were subpoenaed from Simmons First National Bank as part of the investigation into allegations that Nash altered court records and issued “several refunds” to himself in 2003.
Barley-Gibson testified that she has been appointed recorder-treasurer three times by the Gould City Council, but “locked out of my office (by Nash).”
Nash vetoed each appointment.
After obtaining some court records, she said she took them to Howard M. “Corky” Holfhoff, former Gould City Court judge. Holfhoff, Desha County District Court judge, said he never authorized Nash to transfer convictions Nash received in the Gould court to the Desha court at Dumas.
Holfhoff acknowledged it was apparently his signature on a $520 court refund check to Nash, but said he did not remember signing the check nine years ago.
The judge said the transfer and refund on the documents obtained by Barley-Gibson were illegal acts.
Linda Howell, current clerk of the Gould court, said the digital records indicated Nash wrote that his old cases had been transferred to Dumas on appeal, something “we don’t normally do.”
It was “somewhat unusual” for a clerk of the court to issue a refund check to himself, Howell added.
During cross-examination by McKissic, Howell said she determined that several years of the Gould court’s dockets were missing from City Hall.
A state auditor, in response to questions posed by Juneau, testified that auditors are behind in their work and do not normally conduct a complete audit on small-town financial records.
Instead, he added, auditors and city mayors reach an “agreement on procedures” and a sampling of the records is checked.
Nash also has been accused of two counts of battery in the third-degree stemming from a February altercation at City Hall involving Barley-Gibson and then=Alderman Harry Hall.
Hall and Barley-Gibson maintain they were assaulted by Nash when they went to Gould City Hall with a locksmith to gain access to the recorder-treasurer’s office.
A civil trial is scheduled Wednesday in Lincoln County Circuit Court at Star City involving the Gould Citizens Advisory Council.
Two Nash supporters, Samuel King and Norvell Dixon, and members of the private citizens group filed a suit seeking to remove Alderman Roseanna Smith-Lee and Hall from the city council.
The suit contends the two were serving illegally. Hall resigned as a city council member after the suit was filed.