Favorite

Held in contempt 

Among the important elections this year is a race for the Arkansas Supreme Court between Appeals Court Judge Karen Baker and Pulaski Circuit Judge Tim Fox.

Judicial ethics rules being what they are, it's hard for candidates to differentiate themselves. Both candidates have experience and records with laudable decisions; Baker has a marginally better reversal rate. Baker has also demonstrated a strong empathy for equal treatment of women, worth mentioning in a state where more than a century of judicial and political paternalism lingers. Baker also authored an important ruling that put the brakes on a huge power plant in western Arkansas.

Now the "but" — my experience on a case when Baker sat as a chancellor in Conway in 1997.

The issue was a divorce case involving one of the most powerful men in Conway, Charles Morgan, the leader of Acxiom Corp. The divorce case, which the Times was covering, touched on corporate financial issues. When Morgan moved to close the record in the case, I filed an objection. The judge never acknowledged my motion. Perhaps influenced by the public interest in the case, Morgan moved to settle the divorce case. He and his wife came to terms in an order signed barely a week after my open court motion. The file remained sealed. I asked Judge Baker to open it. She said my request was moot, though, by law, it was not. The legal offense, in my view, was that the judge sealed the entire file, even though the hearing that Morgan feared might reveal sensitive information never was held. The judge sealed the boilerplate original divorce pleading. She sealed her final divorce decree. You can look through tens of thousands of divorce cases in Arkansas and not find a single one handled with the secrecy Baker ordered in this case.

I contested her finding of mootness. The judge ignored my pleading for five months. Her staff would not talk to me about the status of my motion. After yet another letter reminding her of her duty to rule, she finally relented. She brusquely dismissed the open court motion, more than a year after it had been filed. She said there was little value in hearing evidence in private if the order that resulted could be open to public scrutiny. She said further that the initial pleading and the final divorce decree in this case "do not concern any public interest and at the request of all litigants should remain private."

So the law, as interpreted by a future Supreme Court justice, is that anybody seeking and receiving a divorce is entitled to total secrecy if they ask. The case is of no public interest.

Other issues have arisen in this race. Both candidates have reached out for partisan support, including money, for a non-partisan job. More troubling has been the work of Baker's supporters to criticize Fox for his landmark ruling that a church-driven state effort to prevent gay people from being foster parents was unconstitutional. With a related case pending on adoption by unmarried couples, the unavoidable inference is that Baker's backers believe she is unfriendly to this modest advancement in human rights. Maybe that's not so.

For my part, Baker's preference for secrecy in a case that involved a local bigshot is enough. Open court is a bedrock of our system. It encourages fairness through accountability. A ruling against open court isn't a recommendation for promotion.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • Neighborliness, in Little Rock and beyond

    I had a parochial topic in mind this week — a surprise plan by Mayor Mark Stodola to address the Arkansas Arts Center's many needs.
    • Nov 19, 2015
  • Bootstraps for me, not thee

    Mean spirit, hypocrisy and misinformation abound among the rump minority threatening to wreck state government rather than allow passage of the state Medicaid appropriation if it continues to include the Obamacare-funded expansion of health insurance coverage for working poor.
    • Apr 14, 2016
  • Trump: The Obama of 2016?

    Conner Eldridge, the Democratic challenger to incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. John Boozman, launched an assault on Boozman Monday morning rich with irony and opportunity.
    • May 5, 2016

Most Shared

  • Conspiracy theorists

    Back in 2000, I interviewed Rev. Jerry Falwell on camera in connection with a documentary film of "The Hunting of the President," which Joe Conason and I wrote.
  • The health of a hospital

    The Medicaid expansion helped Baxter County Regional Medical Center survive and thrive, but a federal repeal bill threatens to imperil it and its patients.
  • Virgil, quick come see

    There goes the Robert E. Lee. But the sentiment that built the monument? It's far from gone.
  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
  • That modern mercantile: The bARn

    The bARn Mercantile — "the general store for the not so general," its slogan says — will open in the space formerly occupied by Ten Thousand Villages at 301A President Clinton Ave.

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Virgil, quick come see

    There goes the Robert E. Lee. But the sentiment that built the monument? It's far from gone.
    • May 25, 2017
  • You want tort reform? Try this.

    The nursing home industry and the chamber of commerce finally defeated the trial lawyers in the 2017 legislature. The Republican-dominated body approved a constitutional amendment for voters in 2018 that they'll depict as close to motherhood in goodness.
    • May 18, 2017
  • French Hill's photo op

    The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed a health care bill that only the blind, dumb or dishonest could call good for any but the wealthy. For its many flaws, it has been hailed as a ticket to congressional gains for the Democratic Party.
    • May 11, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Underutilized waterway is a hidden gem in urban Little Rock

Event Calendar

« »

May

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Not leaders

    As soon as I saw the Notre Dame graduates walking out of their own commencement ceremony as Vice President Mike Pence began to speak, I thought, "Oh no, here we go again."
  • Virgil, quick come see

    There goes the Robert E. Lee. But the sentiment that built the monument? It's far from gone.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Conspiracy theorists

    • Yes, Lyon's thinks it is Fox Network that promotes the lies that the West has…

    • on May 26, 2017
  • Re: Virgil, quick come see

    • When you going to correct your re writing of history? Lets see some real historical…

    • on May 26, 2017
  • Re: Conspiracy theorists

    • "Indeed, in certain situations I have had tall men either incline their head to me…

    • on May 26, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation