LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- An Arkansas judge effectively cleared former lawmaker and Harlem Globetrotter Fred Smith's criminal record, potentially complicating state Democrats' lawsuit claiming the ex-legislator is ineligible to run for his old House seat because of a felony theft conviction.
Chicot County Judge Sam Pope on Wednesday ruled that Smith has complied with the conditions of his sentence he was given when he was found guilty last year of theft of property delivered by mistake. Pope dismissed the felony theft case against him.
"There is no factual dispute concerning the successful completion by the defendant of all the written conditions of his suspended imposition of sentence, including payment of restitution and costs as ordered by the court," Pope wrote in his order.
Smith was charged after an audit found that a school district issued a duplicate payment of $29,250 to a nonprofit group run by Smith and that both payments were cashed. He resigned from his east Arkansas seat the day he was found guilty.
Prosecutors have argued that Smith wasn't eligible to have his conviction expunged because he pleaded not guilty in the case, but Pope wrote that state law gives him the authority to dismiss the case.
"That provision allows discharge of a defendant placed on probation or suspended imposition of sentence at any time where a judgment of conviction was not entered by the court at the time of the suspension or probation and the defendant has fully complied with the conditions of his suspension or probation for the period given by the court," the judge's order said. "The court is required to discharge the defendant and dismiss the proceedings against him."
Prosecutor Thomas Deen did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday morning.
The ruling comes as state Democrats are suing to block Smith from the party's May 22 ballot for his old House seat. Democrats argue that he wasn't eligible to run because of the felony conviction. An attorney for the party said he had not yet seen the ruling and did not have an immediate comment.
Smith told the party when he filed on March 1 that he was in the process of having his conviction expunged.
State Sen. David Burnett, who is representing Smith, said the order shows that Smith was not convicted and should be eligible to run for his seat.
"He doesn't have a conviction," Burnett said. "He's not a convicted felon."
Smith filed to run in the Democratic primary against Rep. Hudson Hallum, who was elected after Smith resigned. No Republicans are running for the seat.
Andrew DeMillo can be reached at www.twitter.com/ademillo