Illegal exaction lawsuit finally settled

Friday, October 3, 2008
At a hearing Thursday morning in the Eureka Springs courthouse, attorneys worked out the details to settle a lawsuit filed shortly before the 2006 elections. Ralph Ohm, at left, represented the county, and Cindy Baker and Rachel Runnels represented the plaintiffs. (Mike Ellis, Carroll County News)

EUREKA SPRINGS -- A lawsuit filed just before the 2006 elections was finally settled at a Thursday morning hearing at the Western District courthouse.

The suit, Reeve et al. v. Carroll County et al., was filed after former sheriff Chuck Medford used funds from the county's half-cent sales tax to purchase vehicles.

The plaintiffs alleged that those funds could only be used to build and operate the jail and central dispatch, and should not have been commingled with funds to operate the sheriff's office.

The county and Medford were named as defendants, along with former county judge Ulys K. Smith and County Clerk Shirley Doss, who approved the purchases.

In Thursday's proceedings, Special Judge John Lineberger asked attorneys for all parties to put together a legal notice for publication. The suit had been certified as a class action suit, on behalf of the residents and taxpayers of Carroll County.

The legal notice will say that the original ordinance proposing the ballot item for the new jail, and the election which followed, were constitutionally correct. All parties will agree that the revenue from the sales tax has been used for its intended purpose.

Any member of the certified class, which included residents and taxpayers during the years 2004 through 2006, may object in writing to the terms of the settlement. Following the publication of the settlement, class members will have 30 days to submit their objections in writing, and Lineberger said he would schedule a hearing if any objections are received.

Since the suit was settled without any monetary award other than attorneys' fees, Lineberger said he did not anticipate any objections.

During hearings on this case last year, all parties had agreed to a settlement of $30,000 for attorney fees for the plaintiffs, represented by Cindy Baker and co-counsel Rachel Runnels. A final bill for $2,900 was submitted by attorneys for Doss, and that amount will be subtracted from the $30,000 total. Baker will also receive money to pay for copying and other costs associated with the case.

Lineberger asked Baker and Runnels to work with Ralph Ohm, who represented the county, in order to produce a concise statement of the resolution of the case.

They assembled a document that will be published as a legal notice in an upcoming edition of the Carroll County News. The agreement forecloses any constitutional challenges to the jail tax, or any recovery of jail tax funds.

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