Jackson County Legislator James Tindall has let it be known that he'd like to see Kevin Harrell become the next prosecutor. Harrell is one of three finalists being considered by County Executive Mike Sanders, who is filling a vacancy that James Kanatzar left when he became a circuit court judge.
Tindall has not officially endorsed Harrell, the chief deputy prosecutor, but he's willing to say that he likes his pedigree. "Kanatzar was deputy prosecutor and he was promoted," Tindall tells The Pitch. "The only thing I'm saying is that a precedent has already been set, so why not appoint [the] deputy prosecutor?"
Tindall's opinion carries weight. He's a clergyman and the county legislature's only African-American. The interesting aspect of his support for Harrell is that the next county prosecutor could attempt to force him out of office.
A jury convicted Tindall of filing false income-tax statements in 1999. Missouri state law says that anyone who has been found guilty of a federal crime is disqualified from holding elected office.
Tindall has said in the past that he's qualified because no one has removed his name from a ballot or prevented him from being sworn in. But that's a little like saying a stolen car is no longer considered stolen if it makes it through a DUI checkpoint.
Some background: In 2005, state lawmakers approved two bills containing language that made a federal crime -- felony and misdemeanor -- a barrier to holding elected office.
Henry Rizzo, a Jackson County legislator who was convicted in 1991 of a federal misdemeanor of providing a false statement to a financial institution, challenged the law, saying it violated the equal-protection clause. The case ended up at the Missouri Supreme Court, which sided with Rizzo. The court ruled that House Bill 58 violated the section of the state constitution which requires that bills contain no more than one subject. (House Bill 58 dealt principally with political subdivisions.)
Rizzo and Tindall were elected to new terms in 2006. The Supreme Court's ruling did not wipe away their sins, however. The other piece of legislation that established new rules about federal crimes and elected office, House Bill 353, remained on the books. The Supreme Court did not address the equal-protection question that Rizzo raised. (Rizzo served out his term. Crystal Williams defeated him in the 2010 primary.)
The website of the Missouri secretary of state's office suggests that Tindall, the county's remaining legislator with a criminal record, should not be in his position. The elected officials' qualifications page cites the statute about federal crimes.
Secretary of State Robin Carnahan does not go around ordering elected officials to give up their seats, however. If someone were to complain to her office, the matter would be referred to ... the county prosecutor.
From Tindall's perspective, a worrying thing happened in Cass County. Earlier this year, the county prosecutor there, Teresa Hensley, filed a lawsuit to remove Herschel Young, the freshly elected presiding commissioner, from office. Young was convicted of felony assault in 1995. ("All I did was slap a guy because he spit on my wife," Young explained to The Kansas City Star.)
Harrell is said to be the front-runner for Kanatzar's job. If he wins out, his handling of the Tindall question will be worth watching.