Candidate's residency challenged by lawsuit

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A complaint filed Aug. 15 in the Circuit Court of Pulaski County challenges the qualifications of candidate Wes Wagner for District 54 State Representative. The lawsuit was filed by Manila resident Chris Gamble through his attorney, Christopher D. Brockett, of Hatfield, Sayre & Brockett in Little Rock.

The lawsuit challenges the Manila residency of Wagner. Under the law, a candidate must be 21 years old, a resident of Arkansas for two years prior to an election and must live in the district for at least one year preceding an election.

According to Gamble's attorney, the lawsuit is based on the Plaintiff's (Chris Gamble) personal knowledge and belief that Wagner resides in Jonesboro.

Wagner ran in 2010 for the State Representative seat in District 76, which represents the eastern half of Craighead County. On the candidate information receipt for the 2010 election, he listed a Jonesboro address as his residence. Wagner lost the 2010 race in a run-off decision in the 2010 Primary election.

According to information provided by Brockett, Wagner used a post office box number in Manila as his permanent address on his candidate information form and receipt for the 2012 election in District 54. This post office box is the mailing address for his law office located in Manila. Further, Wagner listed on his Democratic party 2012 district, state or federal candidate filing form an address at 838 Highway 77 West, Manila. The plaintiff has taken the step of attempting to locate that address and says he was unsuccessful. The area where the address should be located is undeveloped farm land and has no structures. The plaintiff also contacted Entergy Arkansas to determine whether they have any record of the address and whether electrical service is provided to the address. Entergy Arkansas answered "no" to each of the questions.

Gamble's suit requests the court enter a declaratory judgment declaring Wagner ineligible for candidacy as State Representative for District 54 and that he be excluded from the Nov. 6 election ballots.

Wagner was unopposed in the May primary election.

An expedited hearing also is requested in the suit, mandating that state officials either allow votes for write-in candidates to be certified in determining the outcome of the election for District 54 or hold a special election prior to the Nov. 6 general election to obtain a replacement candidate.

District 54 is made up of northern and western Mississippi County, Lepanto, Rivervale and Trumann in Poinsett County.

Listed as separate defendants in the lawsuit are the Mississippi County election commission, Mississippi County Clerk and Arkansas Secretary of State in their official capacities, in that the adjudication of this action may lead to a Writ of Mandamus regarding the Nov. 6 ballot information.

Wagner, a Manila attorney, said he was served with papers regarding the lawsuit on Sunday morning at his Manila residence as he was leaving for church.

Wagner said the listed address of his Manila residence is the 911 designated address given to him.

"I did not just pull the address out of the air," he said. "The numbers may not be in order, but until my number is changed in the 911 emergency system, I will continue to use it. I do have an Entergy account at my Manila residence, along with my other utilities.

"I sense that this issue stems from when my law office flat out refused to go along with an attempt to mislead an insurance company on a claim for damages to a mobile sign," he continued. "I am fully aware of the residency requirements to run for office, therefore, I have no doubt I have been, and obviously I am, a current resident of District 54. I have the utmost confidence that this lawsuit has no merit."

Wagner said the residency requirements will hinge on the definition of intent, adding his intent "has always been and will continue to be a resident of Manila."

"I do have another residence in Jonesboro, but it is not my primary residence," Wagner said. "You can have more than one residence."

"I have lived most of my life in Manila, attending K-12 and graduating in 1997. After college and law school, I decided to come back to Manila to help this community as a whole.

"I want to see the community prosper, and in doing so, I most recently worked, along with the city council, to see that the new swimming pool will become a reality.

"It is common knowledge that Mr. Gamble worked against the sales tax to pay for the pool, and with his attitude toward the community, I would not be surprised if his next frivolous lawsuit was an attempt to stop construction of the new water park.

"Not only do I live, work and enjoy the many recreational activities such as hunting and fishing in Manila, but also, I have many investments in Manila from my law office and carwash to rental property and farmland. I also try to do business with the people of our town, including Gamble Furniture, where, ironically, I got my cookstove for my residence in Manila. They even delivered it, and I can assure you they did not drop it off at my post office box," Wagner said.

"If Mr. Gamble has a personal vendetta against me, then it is very unfortunate that he is letting that create such collateral damage to the town I love and call home. In filing this estranged lawsuit, he has regrettably also caused undeniable tension between and among our mutual friends. I must say that I greatly appreciate the mountains of support I have received from across the state, around the district, and throughout the entire town of Manila.

"More importantly, I am very excited and look forward to representing the people of Manila, who I consider all to be friends. It will be an honor to represent all the constituents in District 54 in the state legislature."

As of Monday morning, no date has been set for a hearing.

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