KARK broke a story this evening on a court hearing today involving Democratic Lt. Governor candidate John Burkhalter. The story can be seen here, but here is an excerpt…
But it’s accusations inside the lawsuit about the way Burkhalter conducts business that we felt voters should see.
On one occasion in March 2011, the lawsuit says Burkhalter and an “entourage” entered his partner’s private office, looked through business documents, recklessly handled guns kept in the office and even pointed a weapon at a pregnant employee.
“Those are absolutely unfounded and untrue,” Burkhalter said of the allegations.
On another occasion, the lawsuit says Burkhalter yelled at a female employee, hammered his fists on her desk and “physically came over the desk at her.”
Asked whether the people of Arkansas should worry about how he would operate if elected, Burkhalter replied, “No, that’s one of the things I’m going to bring back to the office is integrity.”
The hearing today involved an appeal of claims and counterclaims between Burkhalter and a business partner, Kent Vestal. In the original trial, the jury ruled in Vestal’s favor on four charges totaling $178,000 in damages. One of the charges they ruled in Vestal’s favor was on the charge of “Invasion of Privacy by Intrusion into Seclusion.” What does that mean? From the original complaint filed by Vestal…
“Defendant (Burkhalter) intentionally intruded physically upon plaintiff’s solitude and seclusion when he forcefully entered plaintiff’s personal office and rummaged through, copied, and took plaintiff’s personal, family, and client documents. Defendant knew or was substantially certain that he lacked authority, permission, invitation, or consent to enter plaintiff’s personal office and rummage through, copy, and take his personal, family, and client documents. This intrusion was of a kind that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, as the result of conduct to which a reasonable person would object.”
Again, the 12-person jury ruled in favor of the complaint from Vestal on this charge and this is part of the ongoing appeal from Burkhalter. KARK reporter Drew Petrimoulx tweeted that details of the allegations include Burkhalter and an entourage pointing a gun at a pregnant woman during the incident.
However, Burkhalter has also won damages in the litigation, including 8 of 12 claims made against Vestal. On the claim of conversion – a legal term that declares one person has denied the ownership rights of another – the jury ruled for Burkhalter and awarded the LLC between the two men $242,928.18.
Is all this relevant to Burkhalter’s campaign? I would argue it is, particularly since Mike Ross has endorsed Burkhatler and said that if they are both elected one of his first actions will be to create a “Governor’s Cabinet for Economic Development” that Burkhalter will head up.
I have reached out to the Burkhalter campaign for comment and they sent me the statement below. A spokesman for the campaign said that Burkhalter “denies the wrongfulness” of the charge of invasion of privacy saying that Burkhalter jointly owned the office building with his partner who made the charge.
Here is the statement from Bryan Griffith, spokesman for the John Burkhalter for Lt. Governor:
“Over eight years ago, John Burkhalter entered into a business relationship with Kent Vestal. Several years ago, John discovered that Vestal was embezzling funds from that project. When he refused to return the money that he stole, John filed suit.
After hearing the case, the jury unanimously found Kent Vestal guilty of conversion of company funds and a majority found him guilty of willful misconduct or gross negligence and breach of fiduciary duty. However, in response to John’s suit, Vestal had filed a countersuit full of all sorts of untrue allegations. The jury found in John’s favor on multiple of these allegations.
There are a few matters still under appeal and being wrapped up as John mentioned earlier. Let’s remember John’s not a politician, he’s a small business owner. And throughout his career, John has held himself to the highest possible ethical standards.
But the facts of the story are this.
This originates with a business associate of John Burkhalter’s who was found guilty in a court of law for stealing almost a quarter of a million dollars. In retaliation, Mr. Vestal made a number of baseless allegations, which were proven baseless when the court denied in entirety Vestal’s request for relief over a year ago. None of these had to do with the follow-up hearing today, which involved the ongoing business of the LLC in light of the embezzlement.”