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|Fields clear to seek office|
In 2001, Winnsboro mayoral candidate Deacue Fields pleaded guilty to filing false public records, a felony. This begs the question, is he qualified to run for office?
I spent time on the telephone the other day probing that question and discovered, legally, the answer is yes.
First, a little background on the matter.
Fields, was originally charged in state court with malfeasance in office, conspiracy and money laundering and filing false public record during his tenure as deputy elections commissioner under former Louisiana Elections Commissioner Jerry Fowler.
Fowler served as election commissioner from 1980 to 2000. After leaving office, Fowler was indicted by a federal grand jury and convicted for bribery and tax evasion and sent to federal prison.
Fields plea bargained and was convicted of filing false public records and had his other charges dropped.
He served a year of probation and afterwards received a first offender pardon, which is usually granted to those without a prior criminal record.
For his part, Fields maintains he has always been an innocent man and charges were falsely brought against him to compel him to turn state's evidence against Fowler.
He never committed the crime for which he pleaded guilty, Fields says.
The law states that felons who complete their sentences or are pardoned for a crime must wait 15 years to run for elected office.
If this is true, then how can Fields run for mayor if it has only been just over eight years since his 2002 pardon?
To be disqualified, a felon must have been under a sentence of imprisonment for the charge. That doesn't mean he had to be have been imprisoned, however. There are many convicted white collar criminals who never see the inside of a prison.
Fields was never under a sentence of imprisonment and was "deferred the imposition of sentence for a period of one year" and placed on probation for the duration, according to court documents.
Louisiana Assistant Attorney General Bill Bryan explained it to me this way: "His sentence was deferred and he was put on probation so he is qualified. Since he never violated his probation, he can run for office."
As it stands, there are no legal hurdles to keep Fields from becoming mayor of Winnsboro, Bryan said.
There was a seven-day window in which someone could have challenged his qualifying for the election during the first week of February, but that time has passed.
If Fields were to win the mayor's race, the candidate who came in second could file the common law writ of quo warrant to remove him from office, claiming he was never qualified. Bryan doesn't think he would have much of a case.
Fields might not have much to worry about on the legal front, but there is always the court of public opinion.
This coming to light in the same month as the mayoral primary election, on March 27, isn't good for him.
It might have been better for him to have made these revelations public before they were brought out in The Franklin Sun, especially if he knew there were others who knew about them and who might want to use the information against him.
It would seem Fields is legally qualified to be the next mayor of Winnsboro, but voters will have to search their hearts and decide whether they believe he was an innocent man who can be trusted with city government.
They are the ones who will ultimately decide if he's truly qualified.