by David Ramsey
A legislative audit last month raised questions about 15 Arkansas Supreme Court jobs that are paid for with attorney license fees instead of being authorized by the General Assembly via the state budget process, as required by the state Constitution. At a legislative budget hearing last week, Supreme Court Justice Jim Hannah avoided commenting on the audit in depth, but implied that the practice was authorized by a decades-old amendment to the Constitution and upheld by a prior Supreme Court decision. He called the audit’s raising of the issue “unusual.” Frank Arey, attorney for the Division of Legislative Audit, has suggested that a lawsuit might eventually resolve the dispute. Of course, who would likely decide that suit? The Arkansas Supreme Court.
In any case, it sounds like the legislature will act to clear things up before it gets to that.
After the meeting, Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, who will be co-chairman of the Joint Budget Committee during the next session, said he expects some legislative action to be taken.
“I am fine with them spending the money and I don’t want to mess with the program, but I think that it’s a legislative issue,” Teague said. “I think that the Legislature ought to appropriate the dollars and I would assume if nobody else tries to do that then I would do that in the next session.”
Sen. Johnny Key,R-Mountain Home, agreed, saying the state Supreme Court’s budget could be amended to add the 15 additional employees and legislation could be passed allowing the attorney licensing fees to be used for salaries.
“In our discussion it sounded a whole lot more complicated than that and there was talk of lawsuits and everything,” Key said. “I do think it is something we need to have a thorough conversation about amongst our members.”