The latest blood on the floor in the ongoing civil war at the Arkansas Supreme Court appears to be Supreme Court communications counsel Stephanie Harris
, who was asked to clear out her office this morning.
Harris had handled press relations for the court for the past five years.
Harris, who had been an attorney in private practice before joining the staff, said she was terminated by Administrative Office of the Courts Director J.D. Gingerich,
with the firing effective immediately. Harris said she was told the position of communications counsel has also been eliminated as of today.
The person who answered the phone at the Administrative Office of the Courts said that Gingerich was out of state. We were referred to AOC deputy director John Stewart
, who was also out of the office. (See update below)
Harris said that she was not part of any conversations regarding her firing or the elimination of the communications counsel position. She said the news that she had been fired came as a surprise. Asked if she knows specifically why she was fired, Harris said: "I personally have not heard from anyone on the court, so it would be speculation on my part, which I'm not willing to do. So the short answer is: no, I don't know why."
The position of Communication Counsel was new when Harris was hired by the court, so she was the first and only person to hold the position. Asked if she believed her firing was politically motivated, Harris said: "I have no idea."
It's tempting to speculate that Harris' termination had something to do with infighting on the Court. That's included ...
*Justices squabbling over the hiring of the Supreme Court clerk
*At least two justices pushing for administering mass lie detector tests to Supreme Court employees
in order to find the source of leaks to the press
*The recusal of Chief Justice Jim Hannah
and Justice Paul Danielson
from a case related to the state's appeal of a lower court's decision to strike down the ban on same-sex marriage. Hannah called the new case a delaying tactic; Danielson suggested the possibility of ethical misconduct. Inspired by the recusal, Tippi McCullough of Stonewall Democrats filed a complaint with the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission over the handling of the case by other members of the Court.
Arkansas Supreme Court Clerk of Courts Stacey Pectol
responded to a request for comment. She said that she couldn't talk about the circumstances of Harris' firing other than to say that the position of communications counsel has been eliminated.
"As far as the elimination of the position," Pectol said, "the court made a decision to return to its previous policy before that position was created." Pectol said that any questions from the press or the public about the status of a case that can't be answered by viewing the Supreme Court's online docket would be referred to her office. She said general questions about the Arkansas Supreme Court or the state's court structure would be directed to AOC Director J.D. Gingerich.
Pectol was selected as the clerk of courts last June
, replacing long-time clerk of courts Les Steen, who retired.