by Max Brantley
The Arkansas Supreme Court today upheld a circuit court ruling that Steve Jernigan was qualified to be mayor of Lepanto. The local prosecutor had tried to remove him on account of his not being a legal resident of the city. Circuit Judge Ralph Wilson said testimony about Jernigan's rental of an apartment in the city while retaining a permanent residence outside the city was evidence of subterfuge, but he said the state hadn't met its burden of proof that Jernigan wasn't a resident.
The issue: The statute doesn't define residency in requiring it for municipal officers. But the Supreme Court said there's a difference between residency — to live in or be present at a place — and domicile, a fixed and permanent home. The latter is a requirement for county officials. The Supreme Court said Wilson had not clearly erred in finding Jernigan lived in Lepanto when he filed as a candidate.
The court also clarified a past statement that, in determining qualifications for voters and public officialsm, the word residence has usually been treated as synonymous with domicile and dependent to a degree on intent.
A better statement of the law is that, in determining the residency of voters and public officials, this court has considered 1) whether a person was physically present in a particular location or 2) whether a person intended to establish a domicile in a particular location. In other words, if a candidate was unable to establish residency by showing physical presence in the requisite location, this court has allowed a candidate to establish residency by showing domiciliary intent in the requisite location.