CONWAY -- Faulkner County Clerk Margaret Darter was arrested Tuesday on a felony warrant accusing her of tampering with public records.
Darter, a Republican serving her first term in office, surrendered to the county jail. She was booked at 10:40 a.m. and released on her own recognizance at 10:52 a.m., according to the sheriff's office website and Saline County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Brian Clary.
The allegation resulted from an Arkansas State Police investigation into the handling of public officials' financial records by one or more employees in Darter's office.
Saline County Prosecuting Attorney Ken Casady was named as a special prosecutor in the case in September after Faulkner County prosecutor Cody Hiland recused. Casady has assigned the case to Clary.
Darter, 53, was not reached for comment Tuesday. A phone number believed to be her number was repeatedly busy Tuesday afternoon. She has previously declined to comment.
Darter's office referred calls to Faulkner County Attorney David Hogue. He said he thought Darter went home for the day after her release from jail.
Clary said the state police obtained an arrest warrant in the case Tuesday. He said he would review the case file and "would expect" to file a formal charge of tampering with public records, the same allegations on which she was arrested.
Clary said he would file the charge before Nov. 23, when Darter is scheduled to appear in circuit court in Conway.
The Class D felony is punishable by up to six years in prison upon a conviction, Clary said.
Hogue said he did not know if Darter has hired a defense attorney yet. He said he is representing her in her official capacity but is not giving her legal advice. He said he believes it is "her intent" to plead innocent.
Darter can continue to serve legally in her job unless she is convicted, Hogue said.
If Darter is ultimately convicted, Hogue said, he believes state law would mandate that a circuit judge remove her from office.
Arkansas Code Annotated 21-12-302 says in part, "Upon conviction of any county or township officer for an offense involving incompetency, corruption, gross immorality, criminal conduct amounting to a felony, malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance in office, a part of the sentence of the circuit court having jurisdiction shall be to remove such officer from office."
Should that happen, the county Quorum Court then would appoint a clerk to complete Darter's term, Hogue said. That person could not seek election to that position for another term.
In June, Hiland asked the state police to determine whether anyone in the clerk's office had tampered with public officials' past-due statements of financial interest to make it appear that the forms had been filed on time.
The state police turned its findings over to Hiland in September, and he then requested the special prosecutor. Hiland, also a Republican, said at the time that he did so to "avoid any appearance of impropriety and conflict" since he had publicly supported Darter during her election campaign last year.
Statements of financial interest provide information about the sources of income and holdings that public officials and their spouses had during the previous year.
Hiland told the state police in June that information indicated that these statements were filed after the legal deadline "but were improperly file stamped to reflect a timely filing and compliance with the law."
In a Feb. 27 email obtained by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette earlier this year, Darter told the county's justices of the peace that they should file those statements immediately and that she would "hand file them for January 31st."
Failure to file a statement on time can be a misdemeanor in some cases, but few, if any, officials are ever charged for missing the deadline.
Changing the public record, though, can lead to a tampering charge under Arkansas Code Annotated 5-24-121.
In an interview with state police Special Agent David Moss at the clerk's office on July 31, "Darter stated she was filing the forms for January 31, 2015 to give the Justices of the Peace 'peace of mind' because the previous clerk used to notify them that the forms were due by January 31st and she had not done that," says an affidavit signed by Moss and filed in circuit court.
The affidavit adds, "Darter stated no one asked her to back date or file the forms and she did not ask anyone in return for any favors and no one asked her as well and nothing was exchanged between anybody."
Hogue was present for the interview with Darter but said he did not give her legal advice on the criminal case.
At the start of that interview, Hogue said, he told her he couldn't advise her on a criminal matter, and that she didn't have to answer any question but she could if she wanted to.
Had he been representing her in the criminal case, Hogue said, "she wouldn't have talked with the law enforcement officer" because he would have advised her not to.
A Section on 10/28/2015
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