The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled yesterday in a 4-3 split decision that Mike Wilson, the former legislator, should be paid attorney’s fees for his long battle challenging unconstitutional General Improvement Fund spending by the legislature.
Wilson successfully challenged a GIF scheme that the Court struck down as unconstitutional in 2017. It was the third win for Wilson, who had twice before won court rulings which blocked previous versions of the legislature’s unconstitutional schemes to dole out local spending at the discretion of legislators. Such spending would later be at the center of a massive public corruption scandal; it was described as a “slush fund” by former state Rep. Micah Neal, who pleaded guilty on federal corruption charges.
This case involved a dispute over whether Wilson and his attorney, John Ogles, would be awarded attorney’s fees after his successful illegal exaction lawsuit. The Pulaski County Circuit Court awarded Wilson $323,266.53 in attorney’s fees. The state and the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District appealed. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge argued that the state was protected by sovereign immunity and that there was no statutory authority for the awarding of the attorney’s fees in this case.
The Court disagreed, finding that sovereign immunity did not apply and that — as in the case of the Lake View School District lawsuit in which attorney’s fees were awarded — “a substantial benefit has been conferred to the benefit of the taxpayers” from Wilson’s lawsuit.
The precise amount that Wilson and Ogles will receive remains to be seen; as requested by the state, the Court remanded the case to the Pulaski County Circuit Court to determine what a reasonable amount would be.