State Sen. Paul Bookout (D-Jonesboro), who was the subject of a major ethics penalty on Friday, has resigned from his job as an administrator with St. Bernard’s Healthcare in Jonesboro. The Arkansas Times was the first to report on the resignation.
Chris Barber, president and CEO of St. Bernards Healthcare, issued the following statement to Talk Business through a hospital spokesperson:
“Senator Bookout has publicly stated that he intends to abide by the ruling of the Ethics Committee, and we certainly agree with his decision to do so. He has resigned from his position at St. Bernards, and we will have no further comment.”
Bookout took the position of administrative director for system relations and government/public affairs in July 2011.
On Friday (Aug. 16), Bookout was handed an $8,000 fine and a reprimand from the Arkansas Ethics Commission for his misuse of nearly $50,000 in campaign funds.
Information disclosed after the hearing on Friday showed that Bookout, a former Senate President Pro Temp, spent $5,000 on women’s clothing, $8,000 on a home surround sound system, $1,350 on country club dues, and transferred $18,000 from his campaign account to a personal bank account.
Bookout said he would not step down from his seat and he declared he would reimburse his contributors on a pro rata basis after returning $49,000 to his campaign account.
Jonesboro Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington said he will review the case this week to determine if criminal charges may apply to the case. (Ellington called for a special prosecutor late Monday. See UPDATE below.)
Talk Business blogger Jason Tolbert has also reported that Bookout may be facing additional ethics scrutiny due to his accounting of campaign finances from previous years.
On Monday in conversations with legislators at the state capitol, a number have privately expressed concerns that Bookout should resign his State Senate seat. Several sitting lawmakers, including GOP State Representatives David Meeks (R-Conway) and Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville) have called on Bookout to resign.
Sen. President Pro Temp Michael Lamoureux (R-Russellville) has not called on Bookout to resign.
“I respect the decision of the Ethics Commission. Sen. Bookout has been a valued member of the Senate and a friend,” he said on Friday.
UPDATE I: Ellington issued a statement late Monday (Aug. 19) calling on a special prosecutor to be appointed in the Bookout case.
“After spending much of the day in court and also reviewing this matter, I am requesting that Bob McMahan, the Arkansas Prosecutor Coordinator, nominate a special prosecutor to be appointed by the court to further review the Ethics Commission’s findings and determine whether a criminal investigation should be conducted. I suspect the special prosecutor will call for a state police investigation, but will leave that to his or her discretion.
“I specifically believe that it is appropriate for me to call for a special prosecutor to handle this matter because Sen. Bookout and his family attend my church. Further, three of my deputy prosecutors are members of the same law firm as one of Sen. Bookout’s attorneys. Therefore, I believe that my recusal and the subsequent appointment of a special prosecutor is appropriate because of the aforementioned personal and professional conflicts.”
UPDATE II: In a short e-mail statement first provided to the Arkansas News Bureau, Bookout confirmed his resignation from the hospital, but said he has not made a decision yet on stepping down from his Senate post.
“I made the decision I felt was best for the hospital and myself at this time. I have no further updates at this time on my intentions about the office,” Bookout said.