Longtime Jackson County lawmaker James Tindall resigns amid controversy over felony conviction

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Bringing an end to a long political career, Jackson County lawmaker James Tindall turned in his resignation letter at the courthouse on Thursday.

Tindall had been facing mounting pressure and controversy over a 1999 federal conviction for filing false income tax statements. Missouri law disqualifies candidates from serving public office if they have pled guilty or been found guilty of a felony.

The development comes just two days after Tindall withdrew his name from the upcoming August primary for the 2nd district seat. His current term was slated to end on December 31.

"It has been my honor and privilege to serve the citizens of the 2nd District," read the resignation letter obtained by 41 Action News . "During my time in office, I have always attempted to be a voice for those who are so often overlooked and forgotten."

Tindall’s criminal background has been no secret. However, the veteran politician has been elected to two terms—in 2006 and 2010—since the conviction, largely because of confusion and uncertainty of how Missouri’s law should be applied.

So why now? After Tindall filed for another re-election run in February, several Kansas City area residents wrote a letter to Secretary of State Jason Kander, asking him to step in and disqualify the longtime legislator.

“Hopefully, your office will take action on this as soon as possible so other qualified persons have an opportunity to file,” the letter read.

Kander’s office, however, said it did not have the authority to pursue the situation. Instead, a letter from the secretary of state put the decision in the hands of Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker last month.

“This letter is a referral to your office, as the prosecuting authority in Jackson County, to take any action into this issue that your office deems appropriate,” the letter from Kander’s office read.

Sources tell 41 Action News that launched a legal review of the situation in the prosecutor's office, which included insight from retired Jackson County Judge Michael Manners and Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster. 

"My office has concluded that he was not qualified to hold office because he was convicted of the felony," read a statement released from Peters Baker. "My job is to uphold the law aside from political pressure, past support or friendship. Today, that is exactly what my office has done."

The statement said Tindall's resignation came after negotiations and will avoid further legal action by the prosecutor.

Tindall ran for office when two other prosecutors were in charge: County Executive Mike Sanders in 2006 and Judge James Kanatzar in 2010.

But sources in the prosecutors office told 41 Action News there is now more clarity about the law.

A recent case also played a part with the situation. In 2011, the county prosecutor in Cass County filed a lawsuit to remove a newly-elected commissioner from office because of a 1995 felony assault conviction.

Herschel Young took his fight to the Missouri Supreme Court, which ruled the county prosecutor was correct to remove the commissioner from his position.

One of Tindall’s challengers in the August primary, Zachary Berkstresser, also filed a lawsuit in Jackson County Circuit Court earlier this month, arguing the felony conviction disqualified Tindall from office.

"It had been my intent to continue to fight for these issues and represent the 2nd District," read the resignation letter. "However, the cost to carry on this fight is too high. I cannot in good conscience put my wife and family in such financial peril."

Tindall has been a staple in county politics for three decades. He was first elected to the Legislature in 1982 and served until 1996.

But then came the federal investigation and indictment, followed by a three-year prison term.

Tindall reemerged after his time behind bars and won consecutive elections, despite the uncertain status of his legal qualifications as a candidate.

Tindall is the lead pastor of Metropolitan Spiritual Church of Christ in Kansas City. Last year, the Kansas City Star reported the clergyman requested a presidential pardon.

Political consultant Steve Glorioso told 41 Action News the pressure from the prosecutor's office seemed overreaching, especially since Tindall had already withdrawn from the election.

"After being in prison, he was elevated to bishop. So he's turned his life around, and this seems kind of like a sad way to end his public engagement," Glorioso said.

According to the letter, Tindall's resignation is effective on June 30.

Ryan Kath can be reached at ryan.kath@kshb.com. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook .

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