Jury finds Fulton County Judge Jim Kendrick guilty

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Fulton County Judge Jim Kendrick was found guilty of theft of property, a class D felony, by a jury of Fulton County residents on Thursday, Jan. 23. He was ordered to pay a fine in the amount of $10,000.

The trial for Kendrick, who was represented by Gray Dellinger, began Wednesday, Jan. 22. The Honorable Judge Tim Weaver presided over the case. Prosecuting Attorney of the 16th Judicial District, Eric Hance, prepared and presented the case for the state.

The trial was in regards to an incident where Fulton County Road Department employees and equipment were used to make repairs to the personal driveway of Kendrick in June 2019. Once a flood of photos of county equipment working on Kendrick’s driveway hit social media, people began asking questions as to why the judge’s driveway was being tended to while the county had seen a historic amount of rainfall in the recent months, and every county road needed repairs.

The work completed on the driveway occurred June 11 and 12, 2019. Formal complaints were made and an investigation was launched into the accusations. Information from the investigation came to light during the two-day trial held at the Fulton County Courthouse in Salem.

Jury selection was the first order of business. Potential jurors were asked questions to determine whether or not they were able to be impartial and compliant with the expectations of the court. Once the jury had been selected, the state was the first to call their line-up of witnesses, beginning with Fulton County Sheriff Al Roork.

Roork testified he spoke with Kendrick shortly following the pictures showing up on social media. Roork said Kendrick told him, “I think I may have screwed up.” Roork said he advised Kendrick to get an attorney. Roork said when two taxpayers of Fulton County, who also happen to be JPs of Fulton County Quorum Court, Johnny Moody and Jack Haney, came to him with formal complaints, is when he sent a letter to Eric Hance, requesting Arkansas State Police to investigate. As an elected official of the county himself, Roork said he can’t investigate another elected official.

When Dellinger questioned Roork, he attempted to use political affiliation as reasons why the two JP members would make formal complaints. He also led to questions which revealed his argument would be Kendrick had no “criminal intent” and had intentions to pay for the services he received all along.

The state’s next witness, Anthony Weston, an auditor for Arkansas Legislative Audit, testified he witnessed firsthand the work being completed on the judge’s driveway. In his seven years of professional experience, Weston said there have been several instances where he has discovered “findings” or “situations” to turn over to prosectors.

On June 12, Weston was at the Fulton County Courthouse working on the 2018 audit when he became aware of the situation at Kendrick’s residence. Being required to report misuse of funds, Weston said he looked up Kendrick’s address and traveled to the residence where he took photos and talked with county road employee and road grader, Justin Brown.

Weston testified he shared his findings with his supervisor, Roger Norman, who reported the incident in a letter to Hance, a letter which was entered in as evidence. The incident was also made public in the 2018 public findings report, even though it occurred in 2019.

Arkansas State Police Special Agent Corporal Justin Nowlin led the investigation on Kendrick and was called to the stand by Hance. Nowlin said he has investigated four public officials (prior to this case), which all resulted in prosecution. He conducted many interviews with individuals including Kendrick, road foreman Charles Kendrick, road and bridges supervisor Milan Novack, road department employees and also contacted several businesses for information to assist in the investigation. He also visited Kendrick’s residence approximately one to two weeks following reports of the work, as the ASP investigation began on or around June 24.

Dellinger argued for Kendrick through much of the trial that road graders had been left at a residence on Pleasant Valley Road (where Kendrick’s residence is located) following work being completed. However, several testimonies revealed while Nowlin testified, the equipment was parked on Myatt Road, which was several miles away from Pleasant Valley Road.

Nowlin testified when he questioned Kendrick, Kendrick stated Fulton County was in a state of emergency and he was too busy to take off work to repair the road himself, so after employees offered to fix his road for him, he let them with the intention of reimbursing the county for all work completed. The amount he wrote the check for was $1,812 and the theft was found to be valued at around $3,960.

Fulton County Clerk Vickie Bishop was also called by the state to testify and asked a series of questions regarding property deeds. It was determined Kendrick and his wife, Connie, had “deeded” land to their children. The line of questioning made it evident the land in question had been owned by Kendrick for over 20 years. When Kendrick was called to the stand on Thursday, it was revealed the driveway, which received repairs was not “his” driveway, but his son’s, and Kendrick and his wife simply use it on a daily basis to get to their home.

Fulton County Deputy Treasurer Kyla Ellis testified for the state, as she received Kendrick’s “reimbursement” check. When the check was presented to the treasurer’s office on June 18, it could not be received as the “make payable to” section of the check was left blank. The check was returned on June 19 with it made to “Fulton County Road Department.”

Road department employees Justin Brown, James (Jamie) Smith, Steven Moss and Harry Brickey, and former road department Frankie Auten, were also called by the state to testify.

Brown was the road grader operator at Kendrick’s property in June. After he received job orders from Charles Kendrick to repair Jimmy Kendrick’s driveway, he took the equipment to Pleasant Valley Drive to where he was told, and spoke with Jimmy Kendrick. Brown testified Kendrick wanted his road rebuilt from fence to fence because his wife takes care of the riding mower and he didn’t want her to have to do the sides of the driveway. He also testified to having a conversation with J. Kendrick, who said he would make it look like they were not working on June 11 and June 12, but he would pay them under the table. Dellinger said the time sheet was never changed to which Brown agreed.

Smith and Moss were the dump truck drivers, who between the two of them, delivered 18 loads of “hill dirt” from a location where only Fulton County Road Department is allowed, to Kendrick’s driveway.

Bill Dewitt, owner of “the pit”, where the road department gets the dirt, testified to only allowing Fulton County Road Department access to his dirt. He only charges the county $4 per load and he himself doesn’t even use the dirt. The area is operated by Fulton County Road Department employee and backhoe operator Harry Brickey, who also testified.

Ted York and Joe York, both locals in Fulton County who operate contracting, trucking, dump trucking, etc. businesses, were called to the stand to determine value of the property in question. For a private individual to have the work completed Kendrick had completed, it would cost approximately $3,960 or $5,560 including hours in labor and 18 loads, from Ted York and $6,500 for 20 hours and 18 loads from Joe York.

Frankie Auten was a part-time county road employee at the time the driveway was repaired. Auten testified that on June 6, several days before the week began on Kendrick’s driveway on Pleasant Valley Drive, he moved the road grader from Pleasant Valley Drive to Myatt Road, which he stated was eight miles. A short time after the incident, Kendrick placed an advertisement in a local newspaper where he stated the employees volunteered their time to do the work. Auten stated he asked Kendrick if what he put in the paper was true, and when he stated yes, Auten quit.

After Auten’s testimony, before defense started calling their witnesses, Dellinger moved to have the charges dismissed. He said if anything, the charges should be theft of services. Judge Weaver overruled.

Milan Novack was the first of defense’s witnesses to take the stand. Novack stated the county was in a state of emergency, and the county’s senior centers were at risk of closing and Kendrick had been working hard to ensure that didn’t happen. He reportedly gave Kendrick a detailed list of equipment, hours and materials used, however; an invoice was never produced.

Kendrick’s secretary Sara Tanner was also called to the stand. She was out of the office on vacation when the incident took place. She testified to delivering Kendrick’s personal check, which he claimed to be for re-reimbursement, to the Fulton County Treasurer’s Office, twice, as the first time it was not filled out entirely.

Day two of the trial began with retired road grader Lonnie Koelling on the stand. He testified grading private roads was common practice for the road department, especially after an extreme rain or storm. However, he had no recollection of ever working on a judge’s driveway.

James “Hip” Vaughn, a backhoe operator for Fulton County Road Department, also testified for the defense on Thursday. He stated he looked at Kendrick’s driveway and determined he could not repair the driveway with his equipment.

Charles Kendrick, who was elected to serve as JP when his cousin Jim Kendrick was elected to serve as judge, resigned from his JP position because J. Kendrick thought he would be better suited to serve as road foreman, testified.

He was asked about the June 10, 2019 quorum court meeting where the horrible road conditions of Fulton County was the number one topic. He was asked why it wasn’t shared with everyone work on the judge’s driveway would begin the next day. He said jobs are determined on a day to day basis and the roads were too wet at the time to grade – however, one of the main roads discussed at the meeting had been tended to prior to the work on Kendrick’s driveway.

When asked why work came to a stop on the judge’s driveway, he said it was because of Facebook.

Jim Kendrick took the stand following his cousin. He gave some background information about himself and his family, adding he moved to Fulton County in November 1999. He also stated he had a pacemaker/defibrillator in place following a severe heart attack since his move to the area.

“The driveway in question is not owned by Connie and I,” stated Kendrick, who then stated the driveway “leads to my house but it isn’t my driveway”. He said although roads are one of the biggest responsibilities of being judge, he was dealing with other more severe issues at the time including the senior centers and Humphrey’s Ford Bridge, an ongoing project with the county for approximately 10 years.

He stated he told his workers not to pull off of any “hot spots” to perform work on his driveway. He also stated they didn’t rebuild the driveway, but made repairs … repairs which he was not pleased with. He stated due to being the first Republican judge in Fulton County, he was followed and photographed constantly after he was elected/swore in. It was because of the actions of those following him, the incident became public.

He stated because Fulton County doesn’t have a proper invoicing system, one of the many things he wanted to improve in the county, so there was no way for him to know the exact amount to reimburse. During this line of questioning by Hance, Kendrick said he technically made the county money, as those employees wouldn’t be doing other work that day, so because he wanted to reimburse the money, it could be seen as a profit.

Once the defense rested and no more witnesses were called to testify, Hance and Dellinger delivered their closing statements to the jury at approximately 10:30 a.m.

The jury began deliberation after the lunch recess on Thursday, Jan. 24. After nearly one hour of deliberation, they announced they had a verdict. Judge Tim Weaver read the guilty findings, followed by the jury’s short time in deliberation to determine punishment – which was a $10,000 fine.

Fulton County Quorum Court JPs have issued a notice of a special meeting to be held on Friday, Jan. 31 at 8 a.m. at the Fulton County Courthouse in Salem. The purpose of the meeting is “to consider the resolution to declare a vacancy in the office of Fulton County Judge, and to address and fill the vacancy for the unexpired term.”

The resolution states:

“Whereas, Judge Jimmy Kendrick, has served the people of Fulton County, Arkansas, since January 2, 2019 and held the office of the County Judge of Fulton County, State of Arkansas, and served in that capacity since January 2, 2019.

Whereas, Judge Jimmy Kendrick, has been tried before a jury and found guilty of theft of property, a class D felony, as evidenced by a sentencing order filed in the Fulton County Circuit Clerk’s office on January 23, 2020 at 2:58 p.m. and the office of County Judge must be declared vacant;

Whereas, it is the obligation of the Quorum Court of the County of Fulton, State of Arkansas, to declare that vacancy exists in the office of the County Judge in the County of Fulton, State of Arkansas, as authorized by Amendment 55 of the Constitution of the State of Arkansas and Arkansas Code Annotated s 14-14-1309;

Whereas, the Quorum Court is further authorized by Amendment 55 of the Constitution of the State of Arkansas and Arkansas Code Annotated s 14-14-1310 to address and fill the vacancy in the unexpired term by appointment;

Now, therefore, be it resolved by the Quorum Court of Fulton County, Arkansas:

Section 1. A vacancy is declared to exist in the office of County Judge of Fulton County, Arkansas, from the conviction of the duly elected County Judge, the Judge Jimmy Kendrick.

Section 2. That (TO BE DETERMINED) is appointed hereby to fill the position of County Judge of Fulton County, Arkansas, effective immediately and that said person is authorized to serve in said capacity until the expiration of the term on Dec. 31, 2022.

Section 3. That this Resolution shall be effective immediately.”

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