Shoffner ordered to appear at arraignment


LITTLE ROCK — Former state Treasurer Martha Shoffner must appear in federal court at her arrangement Thursday on extortion and bribery charges, a federal magistrate ruled.

U.S. Magistrate Joe Volpe denied Shoffner’s request to waive her court appearance and enter an innocent plea. The order, dated Friday, was entered in the court Monday.

A federal grand jury returned the indictment against Shoffner on June 5, less than a week after a judge rejected her guilty plea to a single federal corruption charge. She now faces six counts of extortion, one count of attempted extortion and seven counts of receipt of bribery. She is accused of steering state bond business to a broker and accepting kickbacks totaling $36,000.

Without comment, Volpe denied Shoffner’s waiver request, dated June 9, in which the former treasurer indicated she had received a copy of the indictment and understood the nature of the charges and the maximum penalties applicable to them after conferring with her attorney.

The waiver request was a formality, “no big deal,” Shoffner’s lawyer, former U.S. attorney Chuck Banks of Little Rock, said Monday.

Banks said the magistrate routinely denied the waiver request because Shoffner has not actually entered a plea to charges, though she has appeared in federal court twice — following her May 18 arrest by FBI agents and on May 31, when U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes rejected her guilty plea when Shoffner refused to say she took cash payments in exchange for performance of her official duties.

“I thought that since the charges in the indictment were nothing new, just separated out, sometimes they allow the attorney to go up and enter a not guilty plea,” he said. “The judge denied it. The process is just beginning because she hadn’t entered a plea.”

Banks said the innocent plea Shoffner “absolutely” plans to make at her arraignment Thursday would not close the door to a possible plea agreement later.

“You never know, but there’s not any (talks) going on now, that’s for sure,” he said, adding that neither side has expressed interest in a plea deal.