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Court feud

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Tweet of the week

"We've got to stop blaming people who can't afford health care — that's my personal belief and policy belief. #RepublicansForMedicareForAll"

— Robb Ryerse (@robb2018), pastor of Vintage Fellowship in Fayetteville. Ryerse announced he would challenge U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers in the Republican primary. Ryerse calls himself an Eisenhower Republican. His announcement said he wanted to "help lead the party back to their roots of responsible stewardship, personal liberty and equal opportunity for all — qualities he finds lacking in today's Republican leadership."

Court feud

Bickering between the Arkansas Supreme Court and Arkansas Court of Appeals broke into public view last week.

It began with what was an otherwise routine post-conviction petition for appeal by a prisoner before the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals opinion included an explanation that jurisdiction for such cases previously had been held exclusively by the Supreme Court, which even has a separate staff dedicated to that kind of work. The work got dumped on the Court of Appeals, said an opinion signed by six of them, without a formal rule change and little more notice than a footnote in another case.

The Supreme Court — fresh off an appearance seeking an 11 percent pay raise from the commission that sets state public official pay — was NOT happy. The court called in Court of Appeals Chief Judge Rita Gruber for what a source told one columnist was a "woodshedding." The Supreme Court also issued a news release about factual errors in the Court of Appeals opinion. It included a huffy remark that the Supreme Court was sure the Court of Appeals, with its 12 judges and 28 lawyers, could handle the added work.

The public friction underscored long-running stories about differences on court staff, workload, judicial ethics rules and, most of all, money. The Supreme Court is not happy the Court of Appeals makes only $5,000 less per judge than the state's highest court and its members also qualify for mileage allowances because they must maintain residences in home districts. Thus the Supreme Court request for an 11 percent pay raise, while suggesting only 2 percent for other judges. Arkansas, one of the poorest states in the U.S., already pays its Supreme Court the 29th highest pay in the country.

The injudicious behavior seemed unlikely to help win sympathy for the Supreme Court, judging by public comments.

Jerry Jones and ethics

The Arkansas Ethics Commission voted 3-2 last week to find that Dallas Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones had unintentionally violated a state ethics law in giving $300,000 worth of free trips to Cowboy games to North Little Rock police officers.

Jones will get a letter to that effect.

State law prohibits gifts to public employees for performance of work. Little Rock blogger Russ Racop filed the ethics complaint.

Jones appeared before the commission and, in what Racop described as emotional remarks, said he didn't view the gifts as a reward for police work but to send a positive message about the work police do outside their normal jobs. Jones' lawyer, Catherine Dolan, a Cowboy staffer who previously practiced in Little Rock, also argued that Jones believed the North Little Rock City Council resolution declaring the gifts official compensation made them proper. Racop pointed out that the arrangements for the free tickets, hotel and travel costs were made before the Council resolution was adopted. The Council resolution came after Racop raised questions about the propriety of the gift.

The letter to Jones, as the giver of an improper gift, was the only action possible under the law. A recipient may receive an official letter of warning on a first offense. Jones had refused a negotiated settlement offer like the one given to North Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police President Michael Gibbons. Jones said he didn't want to settle because he didn't think he'd done wrong.

When Gibbons settled, the document acknowledged a law violation, but said Gibbons had "good cause" to believe it was allowable. Gibbons didn't get a warning letter. Jones received the same presumption of good cause.

Racop said he didn't intend to "get police officers in trouble. I didn't even try to stop them from going to the game. It was just the rule of law, something that shouldn't be given."

It developed in the hearing that Gibbons had talked to Dolan, a former prosecutor in Pulaski County, at a Cowboys game and her introduction of Gibbons to Jones put the gift in motion. A total of 120 of 178 officers, along with various friends and family, took trips at a cost estimated to be at least $300,000.

A new low

The unemployment rate in Arkansas dropped in April to another record low, 3.5 percent, down from 3.6 percent in March. The labor force rose by almost 7,000 employed.

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