Quote of the Week:
"We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots — the 'applesauce' and 'argle bargle' — and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion. ... It was my great good fortune to have known him as working colleague and treasured friend."
—U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the death of Justice Antonin Scalia over the weekend. Though Scalia, 79, was a towering figure in the American conservative movement, he and the staunchly liberal Ginsburg always remained "best buddies," in her words. The empty seat on the court now sets up a huge partisan battle, with Senate Republicans insisting they will block any nominee from President Obama regardless of qualification.
Mike Maggio, the former Conway circuit judge who pleaded guilty a year ago to federal bribery charges, is now trying to withdraw his guilty plea — just two weeks before he was scheduled to be sentenced. Maggio has a new attorney, who argued that the judge had received bad advice from his previous counsel in accepting the negotiated plea. The backstory: According to federal prosecutors, Maggio accepted sizable campaign contributions from an individual — assumed to be nursing home owner Michael Morton — around the same time a suit against one of Morton's facilities was in Maggio's court. In that case, Maggio reduced by 80 percent the financial compensation a jury had awarded to the family of a woman who died in a Morton-owned nursing home because of neglect. But no one else involved in the affair has been charged, and presumably Maggio has been cooperating with the government's investigation in exchange for leniency. Now he's trying to walk back his admission of guilt.
Justice in the barrel
The Maggio tale is one argument against electing judges; another is the current race for chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court, which has been marred by unsavory maneuvers on both sides. The latest contemptible development is Associate Justice Courtney Goodson's endorsement by the National Rifle Association, which she is proudly touting in her campaign ads. Yes, the NRA regularly endorses legislative candidates — but judges are another story. The website of the NRA's own Political Victory Fund states that it's "rare" for the group to endorse anyone in a state judicial race. Why are they lending their support in this one? Nobody knows. When asked for comment, an NRA spokesperson only said, "Our endorsement is based on her strong support of the Second Amendment."
A win for the arts
On Feb. 9, Little Rock voters approved a bond issue to make improvements to the Arkansas Arts Center, the MacArthur Museum of Military History and MacArthur Park, funded by a 2-cent increase to the hotel tax. (The tax itself had already been approved by the City Board of Directors, but voters needed to approve the commitment of the project.) The vote was 4 to 1 in favor of the measure, but with a big caveat: Turnout in the special election was only around 6.6 percent, with fewer than 8,000 voters citywide casting a ballot.
Police were called to the Mitchell Williams law firm the morning of Feb. 9 after an argument between state Treasurer Dennis Milligan and Little Rock lawyer Luther Sutter turned (mildly) violent. Milligan was to be deposed in a lawsuit filed by a former staffer (who is suing the treasurer for defamation), but became upset when Sutter used the word "shit" in the presence of Milligan's wife, Tina. Milligan told the lawyer not to use such language with his wife present, the two men approached each other, and Sutter shoved Milligan in the chest. (Sutter claims he was afraid Milligan was about to attack him.) The next day, the treasurer appeared at the Pulaski County prosecutor's office to file criminal assault charges against Sutter, his right arm in a sling.
Charges filed in Naramore case
Last week, Hot Springs Judge Wade Naramore was charged with negligent homicide in the July 2015 death of his 16-month-old son, Thomas. The child died after being left in a hot car for several hours. Scott Ellington, the special prosecutor assigned to the case, said Naramore surrendered himself that same day at the Garland County Detention Center, where he was booked and released on a $5,000 bond.