All seven Arkansas Supreme Court justices have paid their annual bar fees late in the past. Two justices, Justice Karen Baker and Justice Courtney Hudson Henry*, failed to pay their annual dues within eight years of joining the Court. That time window may be significant because Amendment 80 of the Arkansas Constitution requires Supreme Court justices to be licensed attorneys at least eight years immediately preceding the date they assumed office.
Several lawsuits alleging that similar administrative suspensions due to late payments should disqualify circuit judge candidates from assuming office have been winding their way through the courts. The constitution requires circuit judge candidates to be licensed attorneys in Arkansas for six years prior to holding office.
In the case that started the controversy, specially appointed Judge John Cole found 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 then lawsuits challenging the eligibility of candidates Angela Byrd, Judge Tim Fox (the judge whom Bailey planned to challenge) and Judge H.G. Foster have been filed. On Wednesday, Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen ruled that Byrd shouldn’t be disqualified and that it’s unconstitutional for the Arkansas Supreme Court Clerk to suspend an attorney’s license without holding a hearing. In Griffen’s courtroom, Supreme Court Clerk Les Steenin testified that he’s always treated suspensions for late payment differently from other suspensions, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported. Some 700 to 900 attorneys pay late annually, Steenin told Griffen.
Meanwhile, Judge H.G. Foster has asked the Supreme Court to claim jurisdiction in the suit filed against him and, after being named as a respondent in Foster’s petition to the Court, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel also asked the court to intervene and argued that late payment of dues shouldn’t disqualify a candidate.
So. The Supreme Court is sure to take the question up soon. Will Baker and Henry be forced to recuse?
This whole thing seems more than a little silly. Surely, in the end, it will amount to little more than exposing that attorneys are as prone to forget to do bureaucratic things as the rest of us.
Below are the records of late payments by Supreme Court members. March 1 is the annual deadline for dues. Voters passed Amendment 80 in 2000. The Court, which provided the Times the information that follows in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, only has records of late payments dating back to January 1970.
*A previous version of this post included Chief Justice Jim Hannah among the justices who might be ineligible to assume office depending on how Amendment 80 of the Arkansas Constitution is interpreted. Voters approved Amendment 80 in 2000, but it didn’t go into effect until July 2001. Hannah took office in January 2001, so Amendment 80’s requirements wouldn’t affect his eligibility regardless of how it’s interpreted.
Chief Justice Jim Hannah
Paid dues on: 3/27/74
Justice Donald Corbin
Paid dues on: 3/21/74
Justice Cliff Hoofman
Paid dues on: 3/29/74
Justice Josephine L. Hart
Paid dues on: 7/30/75
Justice Paul Danielson
Paid dues on: 8/26/81
Justice Karen Baker
Paid dues on: 8/10/94
Justice Courtney Hudson Goodson
Paid dues on: 6/7/04