The lights are on, but nobody’s home in Pope County…again.
To absolutely no one’s surprise, there is a history of Arkansas officials playing it fast and loose with the requirement that they live in the district they represent. Generally, these issues arise when someone lives juuuuust outside his or her district. Pope County Justice of the Peace James Kusturin, Jr., however, has taken it to another level; he moved 70 miles away, to Ft. Smith, while still holding his elected position in Russellville.
It wasn’t exactly a secret when Kusturin and his wife listed their home for sale BEFORE the 2018 primary election. It also wasn’t a secret when they found their new home and moved to Ft. Smith a couple of months later.
State Auditor Andrea Lea even took the time to wish him well. Isn’t that nice?
Ms. Lea’s assumption that Kusurtin would no longer be on the quorum court was, of course, based on the fact that state law requires a JP to live in the district that he represents. Seems pretty straightforward, right?
It would be, except for the part where Kusturin decided he could have his cake and eat it too. While running for reelection in 2018, Kusturin changed his voter registration to the address of his accounting office and stayed on the ballot.
It is worth noting, too, that the voter registration form clearly says “address where you live.”1 That raises some questions since Kusturin signed mortgage documents on August 27, 2018, specifically affirming the Ft. Smith home as his primary residence. (What’s that? Lying on mortgage documents is a crime? Interesting….)
Where would a low-level politician get the idea to pull such a gutsy move and not even try to hide it? Turns out, we don’t have to look far to discover where Kusturin may have gotten inspiration.
Current Pope County Judge (and former Justice of the Peace) Ben Cross (R-???) had some similar run-ins over his residency when he signed a contract with Arkansas State Police that required him to live within 45 miles of the troop headquarters
The law is pretty clear that your residence for the purpose of holding office is the domicile that you intend to return to. In Judge Cross’s case, at least he still had a home in the district where he kept his stuff and planned to come back to. Is it really any surprise that his buddy Kusturin thought it would be fine to push it a little further?
If this sounds familiar, it may be because KARK covered this story when a local citizen reported the issue back in April. You can check that out here. Kusturin claims “he lives in an apartment in his office during the week.” That claim might seem plausible on its face, but scratch beneath the surface even a little and you see that it is just another lie by Kusurtin.
A friend in Russellville swung by Kusturin’s office late at night on multiple nights for multiple weeks, and ol’ James was nowhere to be found. Here are a few of the pics. (Note that the truck that looks like it might be under the carport is actually at the business next door.)
With all of the casino controversy that has been simmering in Pope County and a recent push by Russellville voters to recall their mayor, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. So far County Judge Ben Cross has declined to look into the matter, and Kusturin is still making important decisions for the county that he no longer lives in.
Therein lies the rub, too. Functionally, about the only way to hold Kusturin to the law is if the quorum court or the county judge2 actually steps up to declare the seat vacant. Otherwise, the law doesn’t provide many remedies once a person is elected and takes office.