Circuit Judge Mark Lindsay of Fayetteville today essentially dismissed the remnants of the lawsuit filed by Fort Smith lawyer Eddie Christian on behalf of a Hog fan against University of Arkansas officials for letting the Houston Nutt-Mitch Mustain-Teresa Prewett soap opera get out of hand last year. The turmoil ultimately drove quarterback Mustain, one of a highly recruited group of Springdale athletes, to USC.
The judge continued his kowtowing to the hometown university by holding Christian in contempt today, allegedly for violating an order to stop seeking evidence in the case back in June. Christian contends that stay of discovery lasted only 20 days, during which time he amended his lawsuit, and that he was then allowed to do continue discovery. That discovery dredged up state e-mail from a friend of Prewett's that contributed fuel to the fire of a conpsiracy among Nutt, family and friends against the football crew from Springdale.
None of this is too surprising, though the contempt finding seems a little odd. What is very odd is that the judge today followed up a verbal order Aug. 16 and ordered Christian to write anybody he provided information, including newspapers, and get them to return that information. The implication is that they should not even keep a copy. If he's only gathering up copies, after all, what's the point?
As it happens, we posted some of the e-mail weeks ago, because it's in the public record as part of the suit filed by Christian and never put under seal by the judge. Here it is again, the Sherri Darby papers. You don't need to ask Eddie Christian for them. They are in the judge's courthouse.
But, yes, the judge actually told Christian to write newspapers and tell them they can't publish anything he gave them.. If the judge sent that message to me, I think I'd be inclined to tell the messenger where he should tell the judge to shove it.
Greg Karber of Fort Smith, who's co-counsel with Christian, said, "It's the most anti-freedom of the press order I've ever heard of." He went on, "Can you imagine the University of Arkansas, a school of higher education, would ask a judge to direct a litigant to ask newspapers to violate the First Amendment?"
Oh, yeah I can. And the state FOI law, too. We learned, expensively, that the arrogant UA will bear any burden to prevent release of public documents that pertain to rich contributors or important people like football coaches -- in our case it was the Waltons -- if they can get a compliant Razorback alum like Judge Chris Piazza to go along. That's what happened in our FOI case. The reasoning was specious -- no less a media law expert than now-federal Judge Leon Holmes agreed with us -- but a small plaintiff can't afford to keep suing against the horde of lawyers the UA throws at cases such as these and we didn't appeal.
Christian will appeal. Perhaps when the venue moves out of Fayetteville, a bit more justice may be done.
UPDATE: Lawyers might be interested in the brief filed by Christian in advance of Wednesday's hearing.
Here's Morning News coverage. They were in court.