The Log Cabin Democrat in Conway reports that Judge David Laser
heard arguments today but made no ruling on a defense request for dismissal of the civil lawsuit against nursing home owner Michael Morton and former Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker over a $4.2 million reduction in a jury verdict by then-Judge Mike Maggio.
Neither Baker nor Maggio has been charged and have denied wrongdoing.
Laser said he wanted to delay a ruling until the outcome of Maggio's appeal of a federal judge's refusal to let him withdraw a guilty plea to taking a bribe in the form of campaign contributions from Morton, arranged by Baker, to reduce a $5.2 million verdict against a Greenbrier nursing home owned by Morton. The home failed to follow a doctor's order to hospitalize a suffering patient. She died soon after. The jury verdict was unanimous, but Maggio ruled it shocked the conscience and reduced it to $1 million.
The defense argues that the plaintiffs can't demonstrate a quid pro quo just because Morton made campaign contributions to Maggio. It also argues that Maggio acted within the law in reducing the verdict. Even if he had not, the remedy would be a civil claim. They also argue that Maggio said under oath in an Ethics Commission proceeding that he had not been bribed.
Lawyers for the family of Martha Bull, the nursing home patient who died in Greenbrier, filed a motion this week asking the judge to take notice of the undisputed fact of Maggio's guilty plea and bribery conviction.
The plaintiffs have been unable to take sworn testimony from Maggio while his federal case pends. The judge's decision today delays, but leaves open the possibility, of an eventual deposition of Maggio.
Laser, who is retired, is hearing the case on special assignment because judges in Faulkner County disqualified from hearing a case concerning a former colleague.