LITTLE ROCK -- Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, on Wednesday withdrew his complaint that accused Senate President Pro Tempore Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, of violating the Senate's code of ethics.
The withdrawal comes on the heels of the complaint twice being dismissed, first by the Senate and then the body's ethics committee.
Garner said the evidence "clearly shows Sen. Hendren violated our ethics rules," but said it was "very unlikely" the Senate would find fault.
"Due to covid-19 and the likely outcome, I didn't think it was prudent to bring everyone together for a special meeting," Garner said when asked why he dropped the complaint.
Garner alleged in his complaint Hendren, as president of Hendren Plastics, "violated state minimum wage law for financial gain by manipulating the labor market and skirting compliance with the law."
Hendren told senators earlier this month the allegations were "absolutely not true. Every hour that was worked was paid more than minimum wage, including overtime hours. That is an undisputed fact."
In April, U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks ordered Hendren's plastic company and a drug rehabilitation program to pay $1.1 million in back wages and damages to workers. Hendren has appealed the judge's ruling.
The findings and recommendations report of the Senate Ethics Committee was set to be heard at a business meeting on Dec. 11. According to a letter from Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View to the senators, the Senate is not required to address the report since Garner dropped the complaint.
Irvin didn't return messages left for comment as of Wednesday evening.
Garner said he also did not trust how the process would work if the charge was brought to a full hearing.
"If I could present the evidence at the full ethics complaint hearing, I likely still would move forward so the public could know," Garner said. "But I anticipate the Senate would stop me from being able to present that evidence in a public forum."
When contacted, Hendren said he was obviously pleased at the complaint's withdrawal "because it's been without merit from the beginning."
"The 93rd General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to dismiss it. The 92nd General Assembly in its committee voted to dismiss it," Hendren said. "I think it sends a message that we need to quit using this Arkansas Senate for a political tool and that's clearly what has happened here."
Hendren said he is conflicted about whether to take action against Garner for filing the complaint in the first place.
According to Senate rules, lawmakers can be sanctioned if they bring "frivolous" complaints against each other.
"I've got a lot of members who want to take a look at how we prevent the abuse of the Senate in the future and frivolous complaints being brought forward," Hendren said. "I'm just talking with members about how they want to deal with this moving forward. I'm somewhat conflicted because it's a complaint against me, but I also know I need to allow the Senate to do what is necessary to ensure the integrity of the institution is protected."
"The reality is that we have a summary judgment against Hendren Plastics. While I don't agree with the Ethics Committee, I do respect their decision," Garner said. "I don't think there is any chance that this could be considered frivolous. In fact, the only frivolous thing about it was when the Senate, without a shred of evidence, dismissed the case."
Information for this article was contributed by Michael R. Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.