It will be up to a court in Kansas to decide if the constitutional rights of the Grant County sheriff were violated when he entered a plea to a misdemeanor charge in that state in 2010.
A special prosecutor, Jack McQuary, has filed legal paperwork to have Sheriff Ray Vance removed from his office under a provision of the Arkansas Constitution that calls for the removal for anyone convicted of “infamous crimes,” which can be both misdemeanors and felonies.
Included in the list of “infamous crimes” are untruthfulness or deceit, McQuary said.
A hearing on McQuary’s petition was held Monday in Grant County Circuit Court, and McQuary said Tuesday that “there were questions about whether Vance’s constitutional rights were violated” when he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of making false representation to obtain a Kansas lifetime resident hunting license.
“I have retained a law firm to investigate that,” Vance said about the possibility that his rights were violated. “It’s my understanding that I either had to appear in court or have an attorney there to represent me and neither one of those happened.”
In the case involving Vance, he was sent a waiver of an attorney by mail, then entered a negotiated plan agreement with prosecutors after the waiver was sent back.
Vance was fined $1,000 and paid a $12,000 fee to the Kansas Department of Wildlife Enforcement for the deer and turkeys he killed during the time he had the Kansas resident hunting license.
“Any defendant has the right to waive his right to an attorney but the court has to ensure that the defendant fully understands what he or she is doing,” McQuary said. “There is case law that says if a court abuses that, the conviction can be reversed.”
McQuary said attorneys for Vance have petitioned the Kansas courts to look at the case and “if was not done correctly, vacate the sentence.
“If that happens, there will be nothing to prosecute,” McQuary said.
On the other hand, if the Kansas court expunges the conviction, Vance would still be ineligible to serve as sheriff based on the Arkansas Constitution.
Vance said he had bought a house in Kansas and waited two years before applying for a resident hunting license, but learned later that Kansas law required the house to be his permanent residence in order to qualify for a resident license.
“I made a mistake, admitted that, paid a fine and thought it was over,” Vance said.
McQuary was assigned the case after former prosecutor Eddie Easley, who is now a circuit judge, recused himself citing the possibility of a conflict of interest.
Vance, a retired firefighter from North Little Rock, was elected sheriff in 2010 in a three-way race and re-elected last year. During that campaign, the Kansas conviction became an issue, which Vance described as “politically motivated” by a former opponent.
“It was out there and I still won with over 80 percent of the vote,” Vance said.
Circuit Judge Chris Williams, who is hearing the case, has instructed attorneys for Vance to provide him with the petition that has been filed in Kansas, as well as the name and contact information on the judge who will rule on the petition.
Additionally, Williams has told both sides they have until mid to late May to file legal briefs in the civil case.
McQuary said questions about how long it might take for the Kansas court to make a decision have not been answered.
“In hindsight, I probably should have chosen to fight it (the conviction) but I’m not one that goes looking for a lawsuit, so I chose not to fight it back then,” Vance said.
“Now, I feel like I owe it to the people of Grant County who supported me and elected me not to walk away,” Vance said. “To stand up and say, ‘this is wrong.’”