Circuit Judge H.G. Foster has asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to assume jurisdiction in a recently filed lawsuit that alleges that Foster doesn’t meet the constitutional requirement to hold office. Foster, 61, currently serves in the 20th Circuit. He was appointed to the position by the governor in 2013.
Foster’s running for a different division in the 20th Circuit as appointed judges can’t run for the position to which they were appointed.* His opponent in the race, Doralee Chandler, filed suit against Foster, arguing that because Foster has had his legal license suspended, he doesn’t meet the criteria for holding the office as outlined in Amendment 80 of the state constitution.
filed today on Foster’s behalf, attorney Jeff Rosenzweig writes that Foster’s license was suspended “due to oversights and misunderstandings” and argues that nonpayment of license fees doesn’t count as a suspension under the Supreme Court’s rules of conduct for attorneys because only “former attorneys” go on suspension. If so, the legal world really needs to come up with a new word (“Such suspensions are not suspensions…,” reads the petition at one point).
Here’s why the Supreme Court should hear the suit, according to Rosenzweig:
Rule l-2 of the Rules of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals recognizes that matters of “substantial public interest” are within the discretionary jurisdiction of this Court. Cases involving the Arkansas Constitution, elections and regulation of the practice of law and the judiciary are required to be in this Court. Because of the important public interests involved, the possibility of inconsistent findings among the various circuit courts, because of the short time before the election, because it is appropriate that the electorate know at the time of voting whether a candidate is legally qualified to serve, and because Foster’s status to currently serve must be resolved expeditiously, this Court should accept and decide this case on the merits and decide whether or not a suspension for failure to timely pay a license fee disqualifies a person from serving as a judge.
The suit against Foster comes in the wake of a ruling by specially appointed Judge John Cole that Valerie Bailey, a candidate for the 6th Judicial District seat, was ineligible for office because her license had been suspended for nearly nine years. That Bailey’s suspension was of an administrative nature, rather than for misconduct, didn’t matter, Cole said. “A suspension is a suspension is a suspension,” he said from the bench.
Since that ruling, similar lawsuits have also been filed against attorney Angela Byrd, who’s also seeking to become judge in the 20th District Circuit, and Judge Tim Fox, Bailey’s opponent.
*A previous version of this post incorrectly said that Foster was running for the judgeship to which he was appointed. It also mistakenly said he was appointed in 2012 and that he was appointed to fill Rhonda Wood’s vacated position. Instead, Foster is running for the division in the 20th Circuit that Wood vacated that’s currently held by Judge Amy Brazil.