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Paris pleads guilty

Also, high court sides with counties and more.


Quote of the week

"I support the death penalty for people who are dealing in fentanyl. They're imposing a death sentence on the young men and women in our societies." — U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton during a press conference in which he talked about legislation he has co-sponsored that would increase federal mandatory minimum sentences for possession of fentanyl. The bill does not — yet — include the death penalty as an available punishment to fentanyl dealers. President Trump floated the idea in a recent speech.

Paris pleads guilty

Oren Paris III, president of Ecclesia College in Springdale, pleaded guilty last week to fraud. Federal prosecutors allege that Paris paid kickbacks to former state Sen. Jon Woods and former state Rep. Micah Neal, also of Springdale, in return for state General Improvement Fund grants to the college. Neal pleaded guilty to a conspiracy count in early 2017. Paris was scheduled to go to trial this week alongside Woods and Randell Shelton, a consultant who prosecutors say served as a pass-through for the kickbacks.

During jury selection Monday for the trial, potential jurors were told that potential witnesses in the trial include state Auditor Andrea Lea, state Treasurer Dennis Milligan and state Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb.

High court sides with counties, cities

The state Supreme Court denied Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's request that a prosecuting attorney representing the state be mandated to withdraw from a lawsuit filed against opioid makers and distributors by a coalition of cities and counties. Two separate lawsuits with the state as a party, filed in two different counties, will now proceed in state court (in both cases, the plaintiffs hope to avoid being kicked to a federal court in Ohio that is handling hundreds of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers).

Rutledge's petition was the first public shot in a turf war that has been brewing for months between the attorney general's office and the coalition of local governments over litigation strategy, with potentially millions of dollars in damages at stake.

The dispute was whether a coalition of cities and counties could include the state as a plaintiff even though Rutledge is declining to participate in their lawsuit. The coalition of local governments, now with all 75 counties and 15 cities as co-plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit in Crittenden County Circuit Court on March 15 that names more than 60 defendants, including major pharmaceutical companies like Purdue Pharma, as well as retailers, pharmacists and medical providers (the counties and cities also filed a separate lawsuit in federal court).

For strategic reasons, it is advantageous to file this particular lawsuit in state court, where it will remain only if the state is a plaintiff. According to the coalition, it made a good faith effort to negotiate with Rutledge and have her be involved as part of a united front, but she stonewalled them, determined to act without them and to file her lawsuit first. They charge she "abandoned" the cities and counties and tried to sabotage their efforts. Once it became clear she would not join their lawsuit, they brought in Scott Ellington, the prosecuting attorney for the Second Judicial District of Arkansas, to bring the claim on behalf of the state.

Rutledge filed her own lawsuit on behalf of the state against three major opioid manufacturers in Pulaski County Circuit Court on March 29. She then asked the Supreme Court to force Ellington to withdraw from the local governments' lawsuit. She argued that the Crittenden County lawsuit with Ellington as a party representing the state could threaten the success of the state's separate lawsuit in Pulaski County, and jeopardize millions of dollars in potential damages that could be awarded to the state.

More money for charters

The Walton Family Foundation has announced it is putting $300 million into readily available, lower-cost loans for charter schools, including in Arkansas, to purchase or build school buildings.

Just two years ago, $250 million of Walton money was pumped into charter schools in 17 cities, including Little Rock, to give them access to capital for building or acquiring new facilities.

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