Supreme Court extends stay of Crow's consolidation ruling

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Despite an Arkansas Attorney General's (AG) ruling that it isn't necessary, the Arkansas Supreme Court has decided to extend a stay of Judge Kent Crow's recent ruling ordering consolidation of the Eastern and Western Judicial Districts of Carroll County, and requiring that current court records be moved to the Carroll County Courthouse in Berryville effective June 1.

Crow ruled that Act 74 of 1883, which created two judicial districts and two county seats, was never codified as part of the Arkansas Code, and is also unconstitutional. The judge ruled there are no statutes on the books that create two judicial districts in Carroll County, and there haven't been since 1997.

On April 1 the Supreme Court granted a stay of Crow's order in response to a lawsuit filed by Circuit Clerk Ramona Wilson and Eureka Springs attorney Tim Parker alleging the stay of Crow's action was necessary because Crow's orders would cause extreme hardship to litigants, their attorneys, the circuit clerk's office, the county/probate clerk's office, the prosecuting attorney's office and the public defender's office.

An order from the Arkansas Supreme Court was issued April 1 granting a motion for stay and expedited consideration. A response to the stay of the ruling was required within three days, and was prepared for Crow by the AG's office.

Crow had issued the order in the case Trublood v. Hicks Trucking Inc. The AG's response said that because the petitioners are not parties to the case, "there is no irreparable harm in denying the stay."

"Because they have neither shown irreparable harm not the likelihood of success on the merits, Petitioners' Motion should be denied," said the opinion by AG Dustin McDaniel. "Wherefore, Respondent Circuit Judge K. Gerald Crow respectfully requests that the Court deny Petitioner's Motion for Stay and For Expedited Consideration and for all other relief to which he is entitled."

However, the Supreme Court decided to extend the stay until the case can be considered. The case could come up in late summer or early fall.

Crow said he welcomes the Supreme Court review of his decision.

"This will give the Supreme Court the opportunity to look at it, and tell me if I'm right or wrong," Crow said.

The case potentially has impact for not just Carroll County, but nine other counties in the state with two judicial districts. Parker claimed if the judge's ruling was allowed to stand, it could provide grounds for appeals based on improper venue for criminal defendants represented by the public defender's offices. That would be true not only in Carroll County, but other counties with joint judicial districts.

Kent denied there would be grounds for appeal.

Wilson says she doesn't have the room for the files or the people in her Berryville office. And that is only one part of the problem.

"This would have a huge impact on us because of the fact that over the past 100 plus years, everything was kept different," Wilson said. "We have duplicate page numbers for each judicial district. For example, we have criminal 2010-case one for the Eastern District and criminal 2010-case one for the Western District. To consolidate, we would still have to keep them separate. They can never be put together because of duplicated numbers."

The lawsuit claimed the actions of Judge Crow "constitute a blatant violation of the Separation of Powers Doctrine of the Arkansas Constitution. ...Specifically, the issues addressed in Judge Crow's orders of March 15, 2010 are matters reserved under the Constitution of the State of Arkansas for the legislative branch, not the judiciary."

Crow denied there are issues with separation of powers.

Parker said he is relieved that the county will be able to maintain the status quo until the Supreme Court rules on this.

"I'm glad the stay was granted," he said.

Parker maintains that legislation establishing the Eastern and Western District of Carroll County Circuit Court by the passage of Act 74 of 1883 has not been repealed directly, by implication, or otherwise in subsequent legislative enactment.

"Accordingly, Judge Crow's actions and orders constitute a plain, manifest, clear, great and gross abuse of discretion for which there is no other adequate remedy at law other than the extraordinary relief requested herein," the lawsuit stated.

The Office of Legislative Research, in an opinion requested by Sen. Randy Laverty, states that Carroll County qualifies as a multi-district county.

"Carroll County is specifically listed by the General Assembly as a county with two judicial districts, each of which has a county seat," a memorandum to Laverty states.

When Crow's ruling first was announced, there were concerns it would lead to the closing of the Eureka Springs Courthouse. But Crow said his order doesn't do that, and that the Quorum Court can decide to conduct operations anywhere it chooses.

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