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Lebanon city wastewater worker challenges court decision
Oct 03, 2005 12:00 am
September 30, 2005
The one-time head of Lebanon's wastewater treatment facility is challenging a decision to deny him pretrial diversion on charges of falsifying records submitted to state environmental officials.
A hearing for James "Butch" Arnold scheduled for Thursday in Wilson County Criminal Court was postponed until Nov. 15 after his attorney filed a motion contesting a decision by the District Attorney's office to deny him pretrial diversion.
The motion marked the second time in recent months a city official under indictment has sought that particular type of leniency.
Pretrial diversion is perhaps most comparable to probation with a defendant agreeing to meet certain court-imposed requirements – making restitution to theft victims as an example – for a specified period of time. If the defendant meets the requirements the charges are dismissed and frequently any record of the charge expunged. If the defendant fails to meet court-ordered requirements, the charge can be reinstated by prosecutors.
Former Lebanon Purchasing Agent Johnny Crudup sought and was denied pretrial diversion by the DA's office on multiple charges of theft arising from his alleged misuse of a city-issued credit card. His attorney appealed the decision to a higher court and lost.
Arnold – who was moved to another city job after the investigation leading to his indictment began – is facing six counts of falsifying records and six counts of forgery for allegedly submitting documents downplaying to state officials the amount of "wastewater … being released into the community untreated," according to a letter Assistant District Attorney Buck Chambers wrote in denying the pretrial diversion request.
Chambers also cited the number of charges against Arnold in denying the request as well as citing a need for "deterrence."
"The harm to the environment and danger to the people downstream are such that deterrence is important," Chambers wrote.
The prosecutor also rejected an argument Arnold's spotless prior record should weigh in his favor, saying "only persons with his prior history would or should achieve such a responsible position."
But a motion filed by Arnold's attorney, Gary Vandever of Lebanon, called the decision to deny pretrial diversion "arbitrary and an abuse of the District Attorney General's discretion." He claimed the state is holding Arnold's lifetime of good behavior against him.
"The District Attorney General has also denied pretrial diversion since the defendant is a good person … This is an improper basis for denial in that if this reasoning were followed only persons with a poor prior history would be granted pretrial diversion," Vandever stated in the motion.
Vandever, contacted Thursday about the motion, declined to comment.
However in the document filed Sept. 28, the attorney also said the number of charges against Arnold should not be a consideration in the issue, citing a state law which he maintains "provides that multiple offenses do not render a defendant ineligible for pretrial diversion."
The defense motion also charged deterrence should not be an issue in the DA's decision on pretrial diversion.
"Deterrence obviously has little or no relevance in the pretrial diversion setting," the motion stated. "By deliberate design, invocation of the diversion statute awards the consequences of a public prosecution and conviction, and then any 'deterrent effect' on others in the community is intentionally minimized or eliminated. The 'deterrent value' to the individual defendant comes as the result of the program itself, which should be devised to encourage the defendant's rehabilitation … and to ensure he or she will not be subject of criminal charges in the future."
The defendant is charged with falsifying records submitted to the state Department of Environment and Conservation to show compliance with state and federal laws "when in fact wastewater was being released into the community untreated," according to court documents on file.
Senior Staff Writer Brooks Franklin can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 14 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.