Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chip Welch on Tuesday formally removed Kristina Gulley from the county Quorum Court but declined to force her to reimburse the county the $28,039 she was paid before being disqualified from serving.
Welch's ruling means that county commissioners can try again to declare her position to be vacant and call on Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders to appoint a replacement. An effort by the Quorum Court to declare her District 10 seat vacant in January failed to pass. Gulley's seat has been empty for 15 months, leaving her constituents without representation.
Welch said he would not order Gulley, 54, to pay the money back because there is no evidence or accusations that she had defrauded the county. Citing Gulley's continuing career of public service, which predates her time on the Quorum Court, Welch said all of the evidence shows she had performed all of her job duties as justice of the peace until he ruled Gulley was disqualified from holding office last year.
Welch barred Gulley from holding office in May 2022 after ruling she had twice been convicted of misdemeanor hot-check violations more than 21 years ago. Those convictions qualify as "infamous crimes" under the Arkansas Constitution that disqualify candidates for elected office.
Gulley was disqualified because of a lawsuit by two constituents who had challenged the legitimacy of her candidacy citing the hot-check charges in Faulkner County from 1997 and 2003.
When Welch disqualified Gulley, Pulaski County joined the lawsuit to ask that the judge remove her from office and force her to reimburse the county for the pay and benefits she received. Gulley argued the county had missed its chance to remove her by not acting sooner during the litigation and disputed there was sufficient evidence to show she had hot-check convictions.
The judge barred her from office, a ruling she appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which affirmed Welch's ruling last April.
Welch formally removed Gulley from the position following an hour-long hearing. Represented by defense attorney Matt Campbell, Gulley disputed she had ever been convicted, telling the judge she had been charged after accidentally writing insufficient checks, which she said she recalled having paid off either to the restaurants or through the courts.
"There's no conviction on my record," she said, showing the judge copies of her clear Arkansas State Police background check.
County Attorney Adam Fogleman and his deputy Frank LaPorte-Jenner countered that Gulley had formally acknowledged her convictions when she successfully petitioned to have them sealed last year. Gulley had to give a sworn statement to the presiding court to get the cases expunged from the record, LaPorte-Jenner told the judge.
Welch said Gulley's testimony that she had insufficient checks along with the expungement petitions provided sufficient evidence of her convictions. Since 2020, the Arkansas Supreme Court has held misdemeanor hot check convictions disqualify office seekers from public office.
Elected in 2020, Gulley was finishing her first term in office last year and preparing to seek re-election when the legitimacy of her candidacy was disputed in the lawsuit by Henry and Detrice Robinson. She claimed the litigation was politically motivated due to a similar effort involving hot checks keeping her opponent off the ballot.