Friday, September 9, 2016

UPDATE: Supreme Court names special masters to consider ballot challenges

Posted By on Fri, Sep 9, 2016 at 5:16 PM

The Arkansas Supreme Court issued a flurry of orders late this afternoon to get procedures in place to hear efforts to disqualify three proposed constitutional amendments and one initiated act otherwise certified for the Nov. 8 ballot.

The orders:

* NURSING HOME AMENDMENT: In the lawsuit challenging the amendment to  limit damages in nursing home and other health lawsuits to as little as $250,000 and restrict attorney fees, the Supreme Court appointed retired Judge J.W. Looney as a special master. He is to report by Sept. 28 his findings on whether those sponsoring the amendment met petition signature requirements. It set two briefing schedules, one to be completed by Sept. 26 on petitioning procedures and one to be completed by Oct. 13 on sufficiency of the ballot title.

* MARIJUANA INITIATIVE: In the lawsuit challenging the initiated act to approve medical marijuana to be sold by non-profit dispensaries, the Supreme Court appointed retired Judge John Robbins as special master and sets a similar briefing schedule, with a report by Sept. 28 on the signature compliance and briefs by Oct. 13 on challenges to the ballot title.

* MARIJUANA AMENDMENT: In the lawsuit challenging the amendment to allow for-profit sale of medical marijuana, the court set a briefing schedule to be completed by Oct. 13. No special master was needed because it challenges only the sufficiency of the title, not signature procedures.

* ADDITIONAL CASINOS: In the lawsuit attempting to disqualify an amendment to allow a private company to operate three new casinos in Arkansas, the court appointed retired Judge Bentley Story to consider the challenge of signature procedures and report by Sept. 28. It asked for completion of briefs on the challenge of the ballot title by Oct. 13.

No additional recusals appear on the case dockets beyond Justice Courtney Goodson  on the casino amendment. The per curiam orders are issued on behalf of the whole court. There's no sign any sitting judges didn't participate in the order on the nursing home case and the decision on the special master. That would leave all justices participating though all but Chief Justice Howard Brill and Justice Paul Danielson depended to varying degrees on nursing home lobby campaign contributions, a majority of the contributions received in the case of Justice Rhonda Wood. They may be sure their backgrounds will be noted when they reach their decisions in the case.

UPDATE: Gov. Asa Hutchinson will hold a news conference Monday to discuss the marijuana proposals. Spoiler alert: He's against them. But he'll try to sound reasonable about it.


* RELATIVE ON THE BENCH: Judge Bentley Story, appointed to hear the challenge of the casino amendment? His son, Bentley, a business development director at Arkansas Economic Development, is married to Amanda Story, a lobbyist with Hargraves Consulting, whose clients include Oaklawn Jockey Club, which is helping pay the cost of the casino amendment challenge on which Story will provide guidance. AEDC, by the way, answers to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has said  that he opposes the casino amendment.

* MONEY FLOW: Why did Courtney Goodson get off the casino case? We don't know. But she did get multiple contributions from members of the Cella family, who own Oaklawn Park, and also from PACs controlled by lobbyist Bruce Hawkins that are heavily funded by Southland Gaming.

So again the question .... if Goodson did get off the casino amendment because of gambling friends — and I don't know that — what about the much bigger contributions to sitting justices from the nursing home lobby?Things are starting to smell ripe at the Justice Building.

UPDATE: I also remembered when Louis Cella of the family that owns Oaklawn, opponent of the casino amendment, helped put on a Hot Springs fund-raiser for Goodson last October in her unsuccessful race for  chief justice. Her Facebook page captured the moment, along with some Friday Firm lawyers (who are working against the casino amendment as well as against medical marijuana proposals).

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