Still eligible to serve

WEST MEMPHIS (Evening Times) - Two more public officials are facing charges in an ongoing election fraud investigation but, unlike those announced earlier this month, they may retain their elected offices for a while, at least.

Eric Cox, who is a Justice of the Peace on the Crittenden County Quorum Court and was just last week officially re-elected to the Earle school board (he was unopposed in the race), and Lorenzo Parker, who is also a Quorum Court Justice as well as the West Memphis Parks and Recreation director, have yet to appear in court.

Their first hearing, along with three other defendants, Leroy Grant, Amos Sanders and Lisa Burns, is set for Oct. 30 at 9 a.m. in Crittenden County Circuit Court.

Charged with using absentee ballots to defraud election officials during three special elections in 2011, all five were processed and released on bond shortly after surrendering at the Crittenden County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday afternoon.

They were charged with possessing more than 10 absentee ballots while state law prohibits the possession of more than two such ballots.

A conviction on this charge would result in the inability to hold public employment or office. Those convicted while in office are subject to impeachment.

Cox did not return a request for a phone call left at his home Wednesday morning. Calls to Parker's office at the West Memphis Parks Department went unreturned as well.

Details on the charges have not been released.

"I'm very sad to hear about it. I didn't see it coming. It's going to hurt our court. There is no doubt about it," said County Judge-elect Woody Wheeless about the latest charges.

Wheeless noted that Cox and Parker are innocent until proven guilty so they will be able to continue on in those elected positions until they have had their time in court.

"It's tough for our county and it's tough for our court," said Wheeless.

On Sept. 5, Hudson Hallum; the former legislator's father, Marion car dealer Kent Hallum; West Memphis City Councilman Phillip Carter, and Sam Malone, who was serving as a West Memphis Police Officer, Quorum Court Justice and West Memphis School Board member, all pleaded guilty in a Little Rock Federal Court to a conspiracy involved payoffs and other abuses involving absentee ballots.

Those four are awaiting a sentencing hearing and face fines and possible jail time. Hallum ultimately resigned from the legislature. Malone resigned from the police department and his elected positions. Carter has yet to formally resign from the West Memphis Council, but has not attended any meetings of the council or any municipal committees to which he is appointed since the plea.

Hallum's resignation left Green Party candidate Fred Smith as the sole candidate on the Nov. 6 ballot for what is now District 50, somewhat reconfigured after the 2010 Census. Smith's conviction on felony theft and subsequent resignation from the state House seat had prompted the special elections that have been the focus of ongoing investigations. Smith subsequently has had his conviction, expunged, making him an ex-felon who is eligible for office. He has no opposition in the race.

Malone's resignation left an empty slot of the Quorum Court that officials decided not to try to fill since he was a lame-duck officeholder who would have been out of office come January. Malone lost a re-election bid as a justice in the primaries to Vickie Robertson. Cox won a primary challenge for the Position 9 seat from Kenneth Cross while Parker was unopposed.

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