The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday to allow Democratic state House candidate Jimmie Wilson to remain on the ballot, while also giving opponents to his candidacy another chance to challenge Wilson’s eligibility before the election.
In a unanimous ruling, the high court upheld Pulaski County Judge Alice Gray’s decision to toss a lawsuit claiming that Wilson is ineligible for office due to decades-old misdemeanor convictions for illegal use of farm loans and selling mortgaged crops.
Wilson, who served several terms in the state legislature during the 1990s, was pardoned for his crimes by President Bill Clinton. He claimed the pardon removed any legal barriers to returning to office.
Gray’s ruling, however, focused on numerous errors in the lawsuit brought by a Helena-West Helena woman and joined by Wilson’s Republican opponent, David Tollett.
Gray dismissed the lawsuit brought by the woman because her attorney had failed to specify in the complaint whether she was a voter in House District 12, where Wilson is running. She also dismissed Tollett’s motion to intervene in the lawsuit, after his attorneys failed to properly serve Wilson.
Tollett appealed, but a majority opinion written by Justice Courtney Hudson found no error in Gray’s decision to dismiss the case.
The opinion did, however, modify the dismissal to be without prejudice, meaning that attorneys for Tollett and the Republican Party of Arkansas can re-file the lawsuit.
Immediately following the announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision, a spokesman for the party, said it would file another lawsuit seeking to disqualify Wilson before the election.
"Today our attorneys were affirmed in that our case should not have been dismissed with prejudice by the circuit court,” the spokesman, Seth Mays, said in a statement. “The Arkansas Supreme Court notably did not rule on the merits of Mr. Wilson's ineligibility, which are quite clear. We will be re-filing this matter for an expedited hearing and an unobstructed chance to point out how Mr. Wilson's criminal past makes him unfit for office."
House District 12 is a traditionally-Democratic state House district located in Eastern Arkansas. It was made vacant earlier this year when former state Rep. Chris Richey, D- Helena-West Helena, stepped down to take a job in another area of the state.