One man's fight against Little Rock City Hall | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, July 30, 2017

One man's fight against Little Rock City Hall

Posted By on Sun, Jul 30, 2017 at 9:53 AM

click to enlarge STILL BATTLING: Luke Skrable in 2005 with a pile of trash he said the city had failed to deal with. He and the city are still feuding. - 2005 PHOTO
  • 2005 photo
  • STILL BATTLING: Luke Skrable in 2005 with a pile of trash he said the city had failed to deal with. He and the city are still feuding.
An update on the fight by City Hall critic Luke Skrable to be allowed to speak before the Little Rock City Board of Directors. It's not going well for Skrable and the 1st Amendment, though city officials argue in defense of silencing him that Skrable is a difficult case, which is indisputable.

When last mentioned in the news, federal Magistrate Beth Deere ruled July 17 that Mayor Mark Stodola had not violated Skrable's rights by barring him from having a three-minute speaking period before the board in 2015. But she said the city had gone too far in extending a ban of Skrable from city property. Stodola's argument in 2015 was that Skrable would break a city rule on the public comment session that prevents the repetition of subjects covered previously. Skrable argued he had new complaints. But the ban itself developed from an e-mail Skrable sent that night to City Manager Bruce Moore that city officials took as a death threat. "Your days are numbered," it said in part.

He was convicted in state court of terroristic threatening for the email to Moore and paid a fine and was placed under a two-year ban from entering city buildings as part of probation. He still insists he meant only that Moore's days were numbered as city manager, not to harm him.

Skrable has incessantly scolded the city for years, particularly over lax code enforcement in the southwest part of the city where he lives (he happily produces photos of dead animals and trash ignored on neighborhood streets as proof). David Koon chronicled him as long ago as 2005.

(Personal comment: He can wear you out.)

The two-year ban ended in March but Moore extended it a year. Skrable sued.

Judge Deere directed the city and Skrable's attorney to try to work something out. She said a ban with a yearly appeal was too limiting. But she also said Moore had valid concerns about Skrable.

Negotiations failed. The city proposed to allow Skrable into city buildings beginning Aug. 14 except those "in the downtown area," meaning City Board meetings would remain off-limits. It provided a six-month review of Skrable's status in February if he behaved during that period. If he was judged still bannable at that point, the city proposed 90-day reviews. Good behavior meant:

During the 6 month period that expires on February 14, 2018, Mr. Skrable’s access as described above will be revoked if he:

(a) is arrested for any crime of violence toward another person;
(b) makes threats of physical injury or property damage to any City employee or official; or
(c) violates any City ordinance or policy as to the use of public facilities.

That was unacceptable to Skrable. He didn't make a counter offer by 5 p.m. Friday. He said only a lifting of the ban was acceptable to him in an extended e-mail that City Attorney Tom Carpenter took as a vow to turn up at the City Board meeting Tuesday ban or no ban.  His attorney, Ed Adcock, also told Carpenter the city proposal wasn't responsive to the judge's order because it didn't address the ban from City Hall and City Board meetings. Even worse, he said, was it left the two people responsible for the ban, Stodola and Moore, with "unfettered, arbitrary" power to extend the ban "in perpetuity."

Now Skrable has lost his lawyer. I haven't talked with Adcock about his reaso for withdrawal, but I do know dealing with Skrable can be difficult.

Carpenter, in relaying events to other city officials and justifying the continued City Hall ban, wrote:

There is still some concern about Mr. Skrable’s stability as was mentioned during the hearing. The thought is that the six months of experience in all City buildings away from City Hall would allow him to demonstrate that he would not be disruptive at things like the Southwest UPs (United for Progress) meetings held at the Southwest Community Center, during that period of time. Further, the failure to be arrested for crimes of violence of to make terroristic threats – when not under a court order that could lead to immediate imprisonment – would provide definite proof that he could return to Board of Directors meetings and behave himself. As noted, if the conditions were met, then he would be allowed back into all City structures next February (the one day anniversary of the denial of his appeal of the ban). Even if he did not live up to these simple rules, the review process would be one of every 90 days instead of a year.

Now, he has declared that he intends to appear Tuesday night regardless of the status of a modification of the existing ban. In other words, if he does not like the rules, Mr. Skrable will make his own. When it is remembered that the January 20, 2015, incident was the fifth time that he had to be escorted from the Board of Directors meeting room for not complying with the requirement for orderliness during Citizen Communication, this new challenge gives any public official pause. Still, the outline listed above is what the City intends to file with the Court (probably by letter) to let it know about the modification of the ban.

It's a tough case. The city seems to be engaging in prior restraint, essentially imposing punishment now for imagined future action. Carpenter thinks the city is justified.

I think prior restraint is unconstitutional. But, I do not think that threats to public officials, and convictions for those threats, and three different judges stating the comments were threatening but the defendant denying that was ever the case, necessarily justifies letting someone back into a forum. Luke is unique. As I said in the letter, he has not been removed from the Board room just once for his behavior. Even the one on January 20, 2015, would probably not have caused his removal. It was the follow up email that took it over the line. While the ability of a judge to order immediate incarceration certainly justifies not taking erratic action, the additional year was to make sure that was no longer the case.
Has Skrable made any threats since the 2015 e-mail, I asked?

No, not that I know of. Neither did the man who killed the Mayor and shot the townspeople in Tennessee. Your point?
Skrable insists to me he plans no harm to anyone. He says he will appeal, though a lawyer to handle his case might be hard to come by. Carpenter's sticking point is that Skrable still refuses — as he has in multiple court proceedings — to say his e-mail to Moore was threatening. Skrable commented in one of several messages to me:

Yes I am a colossal pain in the ass, gadfly, malcontent BUT the 1st Amendment directly says I can “Petition the Government for a redress of GRIEVANCES”  — and Stodola, Moore and all 10 BODs [directors] decided I was not worth having 1st Amendment Rights. I am unclear how any citizen, let alone a citizen of Little Rock since 1978 can be silenced for 31 plus months because he told the truth.

What next for Skrable?

Good question, mainly exercise my 1st Amendment Right again in my limited fashion. ... I just want to speak in this city with the same level of freedom you and your staff do in public.
But as to Carpenter's fear of defiance:

"I NEVER planned on disobeying any court orders or ban as I have not violated since the first of 3 bans was put on me on 1-26-15."

This is the e-mail that raised red flags for City Attorney Carpenter and following is the judge's final order in case.


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