The Arkansas Supreme Court today approved the request by lawyers for plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the unconstitutional distribution of General Improvement Fund money under control of legislators through regional planning districts.
The lawyers — Mike Wilson and John Ogles — had asked for $2,796.85 in various court costs (not attorney fees). The defendants — DFA Director Larry Walther, Auditor Andrea Lea, Treasurer Dennis Milligan and the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District — had argued against the assessment of costs as an infringement of the state’s immunity from lawsuit. Wilson and Ogles said court precedent allowed costs against the state in illegal exaction cases (illegal spending of state money).
The costs were approved in a per curiam order without discussion. Justice Rhonda Wood and Shawn Womack voted against granting costs for the winning attorneys. The Supreme Court found that the scheme for spending state surplus was unconstitutional because the appropriations lacked specific purposes for the spending. That was done later, at legislative guidance, from block grants to regional agencies. Still pending in the lower court is an effort to get a circuit judge to release unspent money for about $1 million worth of projects designated by legislators. This will require some sleight-of-hand in getting the judge to agree the money was already spent, though it has not been distributed. Let’s hope Judge Chris Piazza gets it right this time around.