Thursday, June 26, 2014

UPDATE: Arkansas Supreme Court has a new clerk — and a division in the ranks

Posted By on Thu, Jun 26, 2014 at 6:41 PM

click to enlarge THE GROUP: Supreme Court justices Goodson, Baker and Hart at bar meeting. Their opposition altered outcome of new court clerk choice.
  • THE GROUP: Supreme Court justices Goodson, Baker and Hart at bar meeting. Their opposition altered outcome of new court clerk choice.
The Arkansas Supreme Court has hired Stacy Pectol to be the new clerk to succeed long-time clerk Les Steen, who retires Friday.

Pectol has been a law clerk to Associate Justice Donald Corbin.

The back story is not so simple. Pectol was not among the applicants for the job, which had a deadline of April 4 for application.

The position, which manages a staff of 11 and has overseen the transition from paper to digital record keeping, drew 10 applicants. Among them was April Golden, an appellate review attorney on the Supreme Court staff with experience in the clerk's office who'd been viewed as the leading candidate on account of experience. A graduate of OBU and the UALR Law School, she'd been on the staff of either the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court for 10 years.

Golden was the choice of Chief Justice Jim Hannah and at least two other justices. But a bloc of opposition emerged to her from Justices Jo Hart, Karen Baker and Courtney Goodson. The court's female contingent has emerged increasingly as allies on various matters. They objected to Golden and made those objections known, leading finally to a contentious split vote among the seven court members. In the face of the division, Golden withdrew from consideration.

I don't know yet exactly how a non-applicant came to be the alternate choice over those who did apply. The justices are not accustomed to giving interviews about their internal decisions. But there have been enough expressions of unhappiness about the situation that leaks have occurred. Feelings ran high about the opposition that developed on this job and it was not the first unpleasantness to emerge in conference. Jo Hart's blunt talk comes up frequently as a reported source of discord.

I've mentioned in a column this week that political antennae are sensitive on the court, with Baker taking an increasingly aggressive role and Goodson planning a run for chief justice in 2016 on Hannah's expected retirement. This isn't the only source of sensitivity.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel remarked recently about outcome-oriented decision-making by the court. It ruffled feathers. Attendees at the recent bar association convention took note of the three female justices sitting shoulder to shoulder in the front row at McDaniel's speech. One attendee described them as glaring at the A.G. Maybe they were just listening intently. A lawyer I know was so struck by the sight that he snapped the cellphone image above.

UPDATE: I had heard that Golden actually had been hired for the job and inquired yesterday about documents to that effect at the Supreme Court. The court spokesman, Stephanie Harris, supplied it today. It shows that Chief Justice Hannah had announced his authority and decision to hire Golden May 28. He urged a warm welcome for her from all. It apparently was cold enough to prompt her not to accept the position.

Here's Justice Hannah's memo.

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