Chief Justice Brill sends a farewell; some named, some not | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Chief Justice Brill sends a farewell; some named, some not

Posted By on Thu, Dec 29, 2016 at 4:31 PM

HOWARD BRILL: Chief justice bids court farewell.
  • HOWARD BRILL: Chief justice bids court farewell.
Chief Justice Howard Brill distributed a statement today on the end of his 16 months filling a vacancy in the seat by appointment of Gov. Asa Hutchinson. He'll return to teaching at the University of Arkansas School of Law.

I note his mention, by name, of only retiring Justice Paul Danielson, and the rising chief justice, Dan Kemp, not other members of the Supreme Court.  Staff was also praised.

He did say: "My colleagues have taught me many lessons in the law."

And this paragraph is  worth noting:

During my tenure, I have learned firsthand that the constitutional, statutory and historical authority given to the Office of the Chief Justice is essential to the system of justice in Arkansas. Any attempt to weaken or undermine the authority should be resisted.

I am not alone among court observers in believing Kemp has his work cut out for him to be more than an assigner of opinion authors after what a rump majority achieved in recent years in seizing authority from former Chief Justice Jim Hannah and in manipulating court decisions and political statements, particularly Justices Rhonda Wood, Jo Hart, Karen Baker and Courtney Goodson. Justice Robin Wynne has, perhaps for survival, sometimes aligned with that bloc, too. They'll be joined in January by Shawn Womack, a former Republican senator closely associated over the years in political matters with Wood, also a functional Republican. (Judges run as non-partisans.)

The rump group participated in, among other things, overriding Hannah on a choice of Supreme Court clerk; instituted a staff pay plan to enhance pay for their own staff; fired a court spokesperson; overrode an interim decision by Justice Donald  Corbin in the same-sex marriage case, and manipulated a delay in the final decision of that case so long that the court eventually never ruled at all, though a 6-1 opinion in favor of overturning the ban had been decided and written. Though Brill praised some changes in the code of ethics for judges, the group as a whole loosened gift-giving rules for judges and stood silent on dark money in political campaigns, as well as resisting stronger suggestions on when judges should not hear cases involving their campaign contributors. That last issue still lingers in a case in which lawyers for plaintiffs in a nursing home case are seeking to get the whole court to declare Rhonda Wood shouldn't sit on a case involving someone who was the major source of her campaign money. She has said there's no conflict.

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