The Arkansas Supreme Court heard oral arguments this morning on whether John Ogles of Jacksonville should receive attorney fees for successfully challenging unconstitutional General Improvement Fund spending.
Ogles was co-counsel and attorney for Mike Wilson, the former legislator, who’d twice before sued successfully against the legislature’s effort to find ways to spread money around the state in unconstitutional local spending at the direction of legislators. The third suit laundered General Improvement Fund money through planning and development districts. They then spent it as legislators instructed.
Wilson sued against the spending scheme as administered by the Central Arkansas Planning and
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is fighting an attorney fee award, saying it’s not contemplated in law or court precedent, except in fees
Mike Wilson, arguing pro se for Ogles, said the GIF case was unique too. He said unless plaintiffs in illegal exaction cases have some “hope” of recouping expenses for time and effort spent to fight illegal legislative spending, suits won’t be filed. He said an award in this case wouldn’t open “floodgates” to expense claims as Justice Courtney Goodson suggested, because there’d been few such requests in decades of the law’s existence. Wilson said he just wanted to preserve the ability of plaintiffs to make a request before a court.
Justice Shawn Womack, a former Republican legislator, and Justice Rhonda
Womack seem to argue there was no public benefit to the $1 million Wilson’s lawsuit prevented from being spent unconstitutionally because it didn’t get spent as legislators intended on items such as a war memorial on the Capitol grounds. Who knows where that money might go now, he asked? Wilson didn’t rise to that bait about
Some members of the court seemed interested in remanding the case to circuit court for a determination of the reasonableness of the fee. Wilson’s brief had suggested the court not do that, but indicated in oral arguments today that could be a possibility. The court has previously awarded court costs on appeals in the case. Justice Jo Hart seemed to strongly suggest that there had been a state benefit in Wilson’s lawsuit to stop at least some, if not all, of the unconstitutional GIF allocations.
The legislature has created a new General Improvement Fund, with a new name. I wouldn’t be surprised if efforts will continue to direct money to local projects not allowed by the Constitution. Wilson IV may be in the offing.