A couple of Republican lawyers helped slow down one of the awful pieces of legislation designed for speedy passage in the fast-tracked special session, a bill to allow waiver of jury trials for contracts of any sort. It failed in House committee yesterday.

Reps. Doug House and Reps. Jimmy Gazaway suggested the bill might be too broad. Boy howdy. It was back-door tort reform. Any industry — nursing home, whoever — could craft little landmines in contracts with patients/customers and they’d be forever foreclosed from a jury hearing a complaint of mistreatment, negligence and other damages. The bill is also, unbelievably, retroactive.


The bill nominally was introduced out of concern that a recent Arkansas Supreme Court case, which found an unusual circumstance merited a jury trial on an issue arising from a foreclosure, needed to protect the foreclosure business from the likelihood of this happening again. That itself was an overblown concern. But the business lobby saw an opportunity and found legislators such as Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson willing to give them an opening to drive mountain moving equipment through a new loophole.

The unexpected resistance yesterday prompted Hutchinson to introduce an amendment specifying that the contracts only would concern those dealing with debt.


Big whoop. It’s still a tractor-trailer-sized loophole. Talk about legislation good for special interests and bad for consumers, this is it.

As one lawyer told me:


My concern is that the amendment language itself is so broad that it couldencompass almost any written agreement – payday lenders, lease agreements, poultry farmers, lender liability lawsuits – no more jury trials in any of this stuff. Watch and see. Plus it’s retroactive.

If you think this isn’t the idea, you have entirely too much faith in our so-called “citizen” legislators.  Which means it will likely pass as amended today.

It tells you all you want to know that Republican Rep. Bullet Bob Ballinger, law partner of the poster child for conflict of interest, Marijuana Commissioner Travis Story, is sponsoring this piece of garbage in the House.

And speaking of special interests, you might want to take a look at Ballinger’s campaign finance reports for his primary challenge of Sen. Bryan King. Would it surprise you to find would-be medical marijuana businessmen among the contributors? More significantly, you’ll find it larded with PAC money from the very sorts of special interests that are backing a constitutional amendment to stripped victims of nursing home and medical malpractice from the ability to get a jury trial or meaningful damages. Here’s just one example of Ballinger’s backers.

UPDATE: The Senate passed this bill 23-5, with the amendment, but it took a defection of Democratic Sen. Larry Teague to adopt the emergency clause. It now goes to the House. Even some skeptical lawyers say it’s been improved enough to stomach and if problems develop they can be fixed in 2019. Free beer tomorrow, is what I say.


Noted in passing by a lawyer: Rep. Bullet Bob Ballinger, House sponsor of the bill, stands himself as a foreclosing plaintiff in a lawsuit against someone to whom he’d granted a mortgage in Carroll County. See, he can feel the banks’ pain.