Jackson County legislator resigns over felony conviction - KCTV5


Jackson County legislator resigns over felony conviction

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Jackson County Legislator James Tindall has offered his resignation to the county.

He previously had withdrawn from the Democratic primary amid concerns about his felony conviction 15 years ago.

Jackson County Clerk Mary Jo Spino said Tindall was due to leave office at the end of his current term, but now his resignation is effective June 30. He would have originally departed on Dec. 31.

"The Democratic County Committee will now have to nominate three people for the full county legislature to choose from. That person will serve out Tindall's term until Dec. 31. Voters go to the polls in August to fill the seat for the next term," she wrote in a statement to KCTV5.

As criticism mounted, Tindall this week pulled his name from the August primary ballot. Democrats are prohibitive favorites for this seat.

Tindall was the only African-American on the legislature, and the seat is typically held by an African-American. 

A state law barring felons from holding elected office was initially proposed in part due to Tindall's conviction.

Dozens of Tindall's supporters rallied Wednesday on the front steps of the Jackson County Courthouse. Their goal was to be heard.

"We have many real criminals that still have not been brought to justice. The question becomes, why so much time, energy, resources to bring down an elected official?" Vernon Howard said.

Some previously said they would like to see Tindall removed from office before his term ends on Dec. 31, but his supporters rallied behind him.

"Why is it so important that before eight months is over, it's so important to remove him now?" asked the Rev. Wallace Hartsfield, emeritus of Metropolitan Baptist Church.

Tindall served 14 years on the county governing body before resigning in 1996 under the cloud of a federal corruption investigation. Three years later, he was convicted of federal tax fraud and served time in federal prison. A jury cleared him of taking bribes.

Despite the federal conviction, Tindall beat incumbent Eugene Standifer in 2006. Standifer sought to challenge Tindall's candidacy because of his felony conviction, but was told by attorneys that it would be financially too costly.

While prosecutors in Missouri, including surrounding counties, have challenged both incumbents and candidates because of felony convictions, Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and her predecessor, James Kanatzar, never challenged Tindall's status.

After Tindall was elected in 2006, he was re-elected in 2010 with few questions about his felony conviction.

Then State Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Independence, successfully pushed the Missouri General Assembly to bar those convicted of federal crimes from holding elected office. Callahan pushed the measure in large part because of Tindall and then Jackson County Legislator Henry Rizzo.

Rizzo had a federal misdemeanor conviction. He successfully challenged the law in part by saying it was unconstitutional to bar those convicted of misdemeanors from being elected to office.

A separate law barring felons from office remained on the books.

Tindall, who has significant standing with the black political leadership, had not been challenged until now. 

Kansas City resident and law student Zach Berkstresser is a candidate for the 2nd District seat and filed a petition in court questioning Tindall's candidacy. Others also pushed Baker to do what other prosecutors have done in their jurisdictions: enforce state law and prevent a felon from holding office.

The candidate says the law is the law.

"It was specifically enumerated that felons cannot hold office, so we should all be playing by the rules," Berkstresser said.

Tindall referred questions to his attorney, Pat McInerney, who said he'd comment later.

Two other Democrat candidates were also in the race. No one from an opposing party has filed.

In response to the announcement of Tindall's resignation, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker issued the following statement:

"This afternoon, my office was notified by counsel for Bishop James Tindall that he was resigning from the Jackson County Legislature. This resignation comes after negotiations between my office and Bishop James Tindall regarding his qualifications to hold office."

"My office had concluded that he was not qualified to hold office because he was convicted of the felony of filing a false income tax statement."

"On March 14, 2014, we received a referral from the Secretary of State, which triggered our review. Our office conducted an internal evaluation of Missouri law and consulted the Missouri Attorney General's Office and an opinion from outside counsel."

"We all came to the same conclusion: The law in the state of Missouri is clear that a felon may not hold elected office."

"My job is to uphold the law aside from political pressure, past support or friendship. Today, that is exactly what my office has done."

"Today's resignation by Bishop Tindall avoids further legal action by this office."

Copyright 2014 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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