Strained relations between the Arkansas Supreme Court and the Arkansas Court of Appeals broke into public view this week.
As I reported yesterday on my daily newscast (but regrettably failed to include on the written Arkansas Blog), people are talking about a Court of Appeals ruling that complained about the Supreme Court dumping the judicial drudge work of considering prisoner appeals for post-conviction relief on the Court of Appeals.
The opinion was written by Judge Philip Whiteaker. Before taking up the petition in question, Whiteaker took pains to address how the Court of Appeals had jurisdiction. He wrote that rules written by the Supreme Court had exclusively reserved these cases to the Supreme Court until March 2.
Then, wrote Whiteaker, the Supreme Court “without effectuating a rule change and without any explication or further explanation as to why it was no longer required by law to hear such cases, summarily transferred a majority of its Rule 37 cases to this court by means of a footnote in an unsigned per curiam opinion.”
Whittaker’s opinion noted also as to Supreme Court jurisdiction over post-conviction petitions: “To assist in the exercise of this jurisdiction, the supreme court employed, and still employs for its exclusive use, an entire office to handle these types of cases.”
Pretty pointed, I’d say. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette also recounted the opinion this morning.
Other helpful background on this:
* This opinion came down the same week that Chief Justice Dan Kemp went before the independent state commission that sets judicial salaries and asked for an 11 percent pay raise for the Supreme Court, but only a 2 percent raise for the Arkansas Court of Appeals. He talked of the Supreme Court’s workload.
* Several Supreme Court members have long been rankled that they make only $5,000 more than the Court of Appeals — $166,500 to $161,500. The Chief Justice makes $180,000, compared with $164,000 for chief judge of the court of appeals (Rita Gruber, recently appointed to that position by Kemp.)
* Whiteaker was joined in his opinion by not only Gruber, but also by four other members of the Court of Appeals — Robert Gladwin, Mark Klappenbach, Larry Vaught and Waymond Brown.
* The Supreme Court has never liked that the Court of Appeals judges get mileage expenses to drive from their residences. However, Court of Appeals judges are elected by geographic zones, the Supreme Court is not. Court of Appeals judges are required to be residents of the zones they serve. There is no such requirement for Supreme Court judges. The Supreme Court also is moving, in the digital age, to video conferencing and other means of information exchange that make it easier to serve without coming to Little Rock often, except for oral arguments, if they choose not to make Little Rock a permanent residence.
* Bad blood still lingers in the Justice Building over a variety of political issues — ranging from how the same-sex marriage case was handled; to the Supreme Court’s dismissal of most of a batch of ethics rule changes suggested by the Arkansas Bar Association; to pay, staffing and promotions in the Administrative Office of the Courts, including an upending of a pay plan proposed by an outgoing administrator in favor of several cutbacks (by a court seeking an 11 percent pay raise).
* By sheer case count, the Court of Appeals turns out far more cases in any given week than the Supreme Court, though the supremes would undoubtedly argue their work is more important. (16 to 5 published opinions last week, for example. The Supreme Court has seven members, the Court of Appeals 12.)
* It would not be like some members of the Supreme Court to remain silent about this injudicious jab from an inferior court.