Appellate court sniping
continues at the Arkansas Justice Building.

The Arkansas Supreme Court today, in answering a question in an alimony dispute, took pains to note deficiencies in the Court of Appeals handling of the case despite a big staff.


Debra Mason is challenging a Circuit Court ruling on alimony awarded to her in 2011 from her former husband, Charles Mason. The circuit court terminated alimony based on a 2013 statute that allows termination of alimony when a party is cohabitating. She said the 2013 law should not be applied retroactively. The circuit court said it was not applied retroactively, but prospectively to future alimony payments. The Court of Appeals sent to the Supreme Court the question of validity and interpretation of the 2013 law.

The Supreme Court held that the 2013 law doesn’t automatically terminate alimony awards and sent the case back to the Court of Appeals for a hearing on the merits:


But … in a footnote, the Supreme Court decision by Justice Shawn Womack said, with pointed remarks emphasized:

We note that the briefs the court of appeals certified to us are deficient. The appellee raised his statutory argument in a motion for summary judgment. Debra 6led a response and Charles filed an additional reply. The circuit court held a hearing on May 5, 2014, and issued an order on June 17, 2014, denying the appellee’s motion for summary judgment.

None of the mentioned pleadings, hearings, orders, or briefs and exhibits are included in the abstract or addendum.

Our rules require that the parties include in the abstract and addendum everything that is essential to our understanding and ability to decide the issues on appeal. We typically require rebriefing when the briefs are insufficient for us to address the merits. We nevertheless did not order rebriefing from this court because we were able to answer the certified question without the additional information. We remand to the court of appeals to address the briefing deficiencies and the underlying merits of the case. It is unfortunate that this case was certified to our court in its current state. ‘We note that with twelve judges, twenty-four law clerks, and four staff attorneys, that the court of appeals has sufficient resources to spot such deficiencies. In the future, we expect the court of appeals to ensure that the briefs comply with our rules prior to certifying a case to this court.

Chief Justice Dan Kemp dissented from the majority opinion. He said he wouldn’t have even answered the certified question “Because appellant Debra Mason has submitted a brief with a deficient abstract and addendum in violation of Arkansas Supreme Court Rule 4-2(a)(5), (8) (2016).”


This is the latest of sniping that broke out in the open when a Court of Appeals opinion complained about the way the Supreme Court had dumped some new prisoner appeal work on the Court of Appeals despite a staff of attorneys to work on such cases. That drew a sharp rejoinder from the Supreme Court and Rita Gruber, chief judge of the Court of Appeals, was called in for an ambush personal remonstrance by the full Supreme Court.  A backdrop to the feuding is long-simmering unhappiness at the Supreme Court that they make only $5,000 a year more than Court of Appeals judges, who also get mileage expenses for travel to homes in the districts from which they are required to run. The Supreme Court is elected statewide.

Kemp recently asked the state pay commission for an 11 percent pay increase for justices, who make $166,500 and a 2 percent raise for the Court of Appeals, whose judges make $161,500. The pay commission recommended a 2 percent increase for all.