Judicial chutzpah 

We maintain a list of egregious Arkansas Supreme Court opinions, for amusement and reference. A good laugh is healthy, and Supreme Court justices are elected.

There was a famous one-sentence opinion — “Too hot to handle,” roughly – by which the Court more or less upheld a controversial state law forbidding the teaching of evolution. The U.S. Supreme Court had sport with that one, speculating aloud on the cat that had gotten the Arkansas justices' tongues. A few years later, an Arkansas Supreme Court majority determined to keep a populist constitutional amendment off the ballot found that the amendment was both “too long” and “too short.” The Court's latest opinion on the state Freedom of Information Act now joins the list.

A four-member majority made a soothing announcement — “We liberally interpret the FOIA to accomplish its broad and laudable purpose that public business be performed in an open and public manner. Furthermore, this court broadly construes the Act in favor of disclosure.” — and with that behind them, proceeded to construe the Act narrowly, supporting secrecy, and accommodating the wishes of unlaudable special interests who find it advantageous to keep the people uninformed. More such “favorable consideration” will just about do in the people's right to know. As it is, the FOIA has been seriously weakened; a dissenter, Associate Justice Tom Glaze, so noted.

The case involved electronic correspondence between a former Pulaski County comptroller, now charged with embezzlement, and a representative of a company that did business with the county. The two mingled business and pleasure freely, the company rep being also the comptroller's paramour. Records of their correspondence, conducted and preserved by public officials in a public office using public equipment on public time, were sought by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette under the FOIA. But Pulaski County wants the records kept secret, for reasons unclear to anyone besides County Judge Buddy Villines, and the Supreme Court has come to his assistance.

Another dissenter, Justice Annabelle Clinton Imber, wrote of the majority's finding: “Contrary to traditional rules of statutory construction, the majority declines to apply a plain reading of the FOIA and adopts secondary sources and case law from other jurisdictions to resolve the issue of whether the e-mails are a ‘public record.' “Rather than look at the Arkansas law, the Court majority examined laws in other states, a book by a secrecy-prone law professor, and, we're told, an old grocery list found in Chief Justice Hannah's shirt pocket. Justice Corbin claims to have seen a precedent in the crop circles of Northeast Arkansas.

In the end, it was a minority of Glaze, Imber and Justice Paul Danielson who favored disclosure. Hannah, Corbin, Brown and Gunter voted to leave off the light that Villines extinguished.



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Arkansas Times Staff

  • Friday's headlines and your holiday open line

    What happened at the State Board of Education and what does it mean; Legislation filed for Hutchinson's government reorganization plan; Pediatric flu-related death in Arkansas reported; Suspect arrested in unsolved 2008 North Little Rock homicide.
    • Dec 21, 2018
  • New episode of Rock the Culture: "Juice In Your Own Life"

    In this week’s episode, Charles and Antwan provide perspective and conversation on the Little Rock Mayoral Election and State Board of Education’s consideration of the anticipated request to waive the Fair Teacher Dismissal Act. In addition, Charles and Antwan discuss all things happening in the Little Rock School District with Superintendent Michael Poore.
    • Dec 11, 2018
  • End of the week headlines and your open line

    Alderman candidate misses chance to cast deciding vote for himself in runoff election; Dem-Gaz to phase out print delivery in El Dorado, Camden and Magnolia; Rapert threatens UA Fort Smith over 'Drag Queen Story Time' event; The Van seeks to raise $35,000 in three weeks for new warehouse facility in South Little Rock.
    • Dec 7, 2018
  • More »

Latest in Editorials

  • The end of an era

    We're sad to report that Doug Smith has decided to retire. Though he's been listed as an associate editor on our masthead for the last 22 years, he has in fact been the conscience of the Arkansas Times. He has written all but a handful of our unsigned editorials since we introduced an opinion page in 1992.
    • May 8, 2014
  • A stand for equality

    Last week, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel became the first elected statewide official to express support for same-sex marriage. His announcement came days before Circuit Judge Chris Piazza is expected to rule on a challenge to the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Soon after, a federal challenge of the law is expected to move forward. McDaniel has pledged to "zealously" defend the Arkansas Constitution but said he wanted the public to know where he stood.
    • May 8, 2014
  • Same old, same old

    Remarking as we were on the dreariness of this year's election campaigns, we failed to pay sufficient tribute to the NRA, one of the most unsavory and, in its predictability, dullest of the biennial participants in the passing political parade.
    • May 1, 2014
  • More »

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Of Freud and foolishness

    • How nice... the lawyerly Democritus offers a personal criticism, without benefit of the reason for…

    • on January 18, 2019
  • Re: Of Freud and foolishness

    • Please tell me that the Times did not give Lyons money to produce this drivel…

    • on January 17, 2019

© 2019 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation