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Salem attorney's many jobs questioned.

IN THE WEEKS SINCE AN Arkansas Business report raised questions about Salem attorney C. Dwayne Plumlee's various roles in the justice system, others have said they too have noticed apparent conflicts of interest.

In addition to being a practicing private attorney, Plumlee holds part-time jobs as assistant prosecuting attorney for Fulton County, city attorney for Salem, county attorney for Fulton County and city judge for Horseshoe Bend in Izard County. Plumlee also is the attorney for the Bank of Salem and serves on its board of directors.

Plumlee might be in such high demand because in Salem, a town of about 1,500, there are only two attorneys: Plumlee and James R. Short, according to the Arkansas Supreme Court clerk's office.

In December, Arkansas Business reported that Plumlee declined to prosecute a Bank of Salem teller who admitted stealing night deposits. Plumlee is scheduled to go to trial in March in U.S. District Court over allegations that he deprived a Jonesboro man of access to his own property and overstepped his bounds when he sent a threatening letter on behalf of a client.

Meanwhile, it appears the state attorney general's office is looking into Plumlee's position as Horsehoe Bend judge.

Plumlee didn't return a call for comment on the various complaints against him.

Charles Dabbs of Salem, who works as an agent for Afford-able Bail Bonds Inc. of Mountain Home, said he has been trying since 1999 to get Plumlee removed from some of the part-time jobs he's held.

In October, Dabbs wrote Attorney General Mike Beebe and asked him to remove Plumlee from the judge's position. Dabbs said Plumlee can't be a municipal judge in a county he doesn't live in.

"From reading the AG opinions it appears clear that this one individual cannot be a city attorney AND a prosecuting attorney, either--nor can he be on the board of directors of a bank since he is a judge," Dabbs wrote.

Assistant Attorney General Christine Cryer replied in a Nov. 18 letter that she will be investigating the "alleged usurpation regarding Carl Dwayne Plumlee as the Horseshoe Bend city judge."

Cryer said last week she couldn't comment on the investigation. Plumlee was still holding court last week, Dabb said.

Dabbs also has filed a complaint with the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission against Plumlee. Dabbs said he hasn't heard the status of that complaint. The commission said it couldn't comment, and wouldn't even say if it received a complaint against Plumlee.

Land Dispute

Paul Culbreath of Jonesboro has filed suit in U.S. District Court alleging Plumlee violated his civil rights by keeping him from his property.

Acting as his own attorney, Culbreath said Plumlee stepped over the line as a private attorney and was acting in his role of prosecuting attorney when he sent a letter Warning Culbreath to stay off property owned by Plumlee's client.

"Any further entry by you upon the above described premises shall be considered as a criminal trespass and will be dealt with according to law," Plumlee wrote in 1998.

Culbreath took the letter's threat seriously since Plumlee also is a prosecutor

Culbreath has been in a dispute with one of Plumlee's clients over a property easement since 1997. Culbreath said he has hired four different attorneys and spent around $100,000 trying to gain access to 160 acres of hunting land he owns in Fulton County--in vain, despite a December 2002 Arkansas Supreme Court decision saying he has an easement to get to his property.

"I'm still landlocked as of today," he said.

Culbreath clearly contributed to his own problems: A complaint he filed against the trial judge caused a falling out with the lawyer who had successfully appealed his claim to the state Supreme Court and has delayed further action in the case.

But he lays the primary blame for the entire dispute on Plumlee. He charges that Plumlee recorded land documents that removed the easement in order to smooth the way for the sale of the neighboring property to a woman who didn't want anyone crossing her land. Plumlee was the closing attorney in the land sale.

Plumlee has said in court filings that he didn't even know Culbreath was claiming he had an easement on the land until more than a year after the sale.

The allegations Culbreath made "are not accurate, you can tell that from the pleadings," said Plumlee's attorney, Robert Henry Ill of Little Rock. "I would certainly hope that you wouldn't give credence to those as if there's some sort of accuracy to those."

Culbreath also has filed federal lawsuits against some of his former attorneys and the real estate agent and company that handled the closing that led to his easement being removed. The defendants have denied his allegations and their cases are pending.

The question of how Culbreath's easement was removed piqued the interest of the U.S. attorney's office in Little Rock and the FBI. Both agencies investigated Culbreath's allegations between 2001 and 2002, according to a letter by U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins dated July 24, 2002.

Cummins said his office decided to take no action in the case. "We lack a good faith reason to believe we can meet our burden of proving any allegations made," Cummins wrote.

Culbreath's lawsuit against Plumlee is scheduled to go to trial on March 28. Plumlee has asked the case be dismissed, saying Culbreath doesn't have a case. That motion is pending.

The Trial

To gain access to his land, Culbreath first sued the person who sold him the land, Marjoria DeShazo, and the property owner who wouldn't let Culbreath use her land, Bonnie Hodge.

When the case went to trial in the Fulton County Chancery Court in November 2001, Culbreath said he felt he was going to lose, which he did.

But it was during the trial that several key developments occurred.

Culbreath said his attorney, Eric Hance of Batesville, should have called Plumlee--who represented Hodge in the case--as a witness, but didn't. Hance didn't return a carl seeking comment.

DeShazo testified that Plumlee misled her into signing documents that removed the easement on Culbreath's land.

In a two-page handwritten letter to Culbreath in 2004, DeShazo said she felt she was deceived by Plumlee, whom she trusted and thought was her friend.

She added in the letter that she knew about the permanent easement her late husband had put on the original deed for the property Hodge purchased.

Plumlee said in an affidavit that he did not intentionally deceive anyone.

"If Mrs. DeShazo had a question or a reservation, I would have done my best to answer her questions," Plumlee wrote.

As Hodge's defense attorney, Plumlee questioned DeShazo at trial about conversations the two had conceming the removal of the easement:

"Ms. DeShazo, you don't recall me calling you prior to April the ninth and discussing the easement problems with you and asking you to come by and sign curative documents?" Plumlee asked.

"You never discussed an easement with me," DeShazo said.

"I never discussed that there was a problem in that there was an easement that went down into the middle of the property and seemed to stop--," he said. "No, sir," she said. "--and go nowhere?"

"No, sir," DeShazo said.

Also at the trial, testimony by Danny Perryman, owner of Perryman Realty of Viola, would come back to haunt Plumlee.

Perryman said on the stand that he never discussed the easement with Hodge or DeShazo.

But Plumlee earlier had prepared an affidavit for Perryman for a complaint DeShazo filed with the Arkansas Real Estate Commission. In that affidavit, Perryman said he had discussed the easement contingency with Hodge and DeShazo.

At the trial, Perryman testified he didn't even know what was in the affidavit because he didn't prepare it and he didn't read it, Culbreath said.

Culbreath then filed a complaint with the Arkansas Supreme Court Office of Professional Conduct against Plumlee for making the false statement.

In Plumlee's response to the ethics complaint, Plumlee said Perryman signed the document and attested it was true and correct. Plumlee said he didn't knowingly make a false statement.

But the Office of Professional Conduct found otherwise. It reprimanded Plumlee for making a false statement in January 2004. He was fined $50.

Teller still not charged with theft

DEBRA FOUNTAIN, OWNER of Salem Fuel Center, says she has heard "not one word" from Assistant Prosecuting Attorney C. Dwayne Plumlee since she complained publicly about his failure to prosecute a Bank of Salem teller who stole from her night deposits.

Fountain's suspicion that Plumlee ignored the woman's confession because he is the bank's lawyer and serves on its board of directors was reported by Arkansas Business on Dec. 6 and was subsequently reported by other news organizations.

In Fountain's situation, Sandra Layne admitted to an Arkansas state police investigator that she repeatedly stole cash from night deposits made by Fountain's convenience store. Fountain also said she had mounds of evidence to prove her case, but Plumlee never filed charges--either as the state's prosecuting attorney or as the city attorney.

In December, Plumlee said he wouldn't comment on the case because it was still open. But the state police file clearly showed the case as closed.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:C. Dwayne Plumlee
Comment:Salem attorney's many jobs questioned.(C. Dwayne Plumlee)
Author:Friedman, Mark
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Jan 17, 2005
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