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Closed doors at the secretary of state 

Also, exposed in Pine Bluff, a tragedy in Sebastian County and more.

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Quote of the Week:

"What you just said was the most despicable thing I've heard in a long time from a lawyer."

— U.S. District Judge Brian Miller to Luther Sutter after the plaintiff's attorney implied the chest pains suffered by defendant Jim Harris had been faked. Harris, the chief deputy to state Treasurer Dennis Milligan, was taken from the courtroom last Thursday by paramedics, upon which Sutter told the judge, "I can personally guarantee you that Mr. Harris is going to have a clean bill of health tomorrow." Sutter represents David Singer, a former employee of the treasurer's office who alleges defamation and discrimination on the part of Harris and Milligan after his firing. Judge Miller declared a mistrial the next day, agreeing that the medical episode engendered sympathy among jurors for Harris.

Closed doors

Finally. Secretary of State Mark Martin's office sent a follow-up letter to county clerks last week "strongly recommend[ing]" that local officials not remove people from voter rolls on the basis of a flawed batch of felon data sent by the secretary of state in June. It also strongly recommended clerks "roll back" the removal of voters if they had not double-checked the list using other sources of information. Though the secretary of state's office notified clerks of the error in early July, many were confused about how to proceed. Previously, a spokesperson for Martin's office declined to offer clear guidance about correcting the error, saying it was "the clerks' prerogative about how they want to handle these things" — even though evidence indicated a majority of names on the list were indeed eligible voters. The secretary of state's office also attempted to dodge formal Freedom of Information Act requests from this newspaper and others, until the attorney general's office advised it to relent last week. Meanwhile, Martin himself is, as usual, MIA.

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Exposed

The New York Times reported on Arkansas Community Correction's "Mulligan Road" program in Pine Bluff, in which prison inmates and parolees were put to work demolishing abandoned homes in the city. Due to budget constraints, the 30 or so participants in the program were given little training and inadequate protective equipment to shield them from asbestos inhalation. (Asbestos exposure can lead to lung cancer and mesothelioma.) Some inmates told the New York Times that when they asked for respirators — which are standard issue for such demolition work — they were told the gear was too costly. After the federal Environmental Protection Agency sent inspectors to the site in May, the EPA cited multiple health and safety violations and ACC shut down the program. ACC defended the program in a letter to the EPA that said the federal regulatory agency had "failed to communicate" its rules regarding worker safety.

Tragedy in Sebastian County

Two law enforcement officers were shot, one fatally, in the line of duty last week during a confrontation south of Fort Smith with a Greenwood man. Bill Cooper, 66, a deputy sheriff and Marine veteran, died of his wounds later that day; Hackett Police Chief Darrell Spells suffered non-life-threatening injuries. (A police dog was also shot and went missing but was later recovered alive.) A sheriff's spokesman said the officers had initially gone to the home of the suspect, Billy Jones, in response to a call from Jones' father to check on his son, who was due in court later that day on a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Rescue down under

In Independence County, three Arkansas State University students were rescued from a cavern after being lost for 30 hours. Casey Sherwood, a senior and amateur spelunker from Jonesboro, led two freshmen from Japan, Daisuke Takagi and Daiki Itoh, on the expedition to Blowing Cave. Sherwood's wife initiated the emergency response when the party failed to return home by the expected time.

Better luck in 2020

Champion Razorback pole vaulter Lexi Weeks fell just a little short at the Rio Olympics this week in the qualifying round. The 19-year-old Cabot native and 2015 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star needed to top 4.55 meters (about 15 feet) in order to make it to the women's pole vault finals. University of Arkansas alum Sandi Morris did qualify for the final competition, however, which is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 19.

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